A total of 6,938 registered ambulances operate across Bangladesh, according to BRTA data
The number of ambulances has increased significantly in the country in recent months following a sudden peak in Covid-19 cases requiring more patients to be hospitalized.
According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), in the first two months of 2021, a total of 121 ambulances were registered, while 778 were registered in 2020 and 665 in 2019.
According to BRTA data, there are 4,702 registered ambulances in Dhaka city and a total of 6,938 registered ambulances in the country.
Among them, 1,564 ambulances were registered in the past 2.2 years.
Interestingly, in the last three months of 2020, as many as 375 ambulances (nearly half of the year’s total) were registered under BRTA as the demand for ambulances peaked due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, BRTA data show that some 409 ambulances were registered in the earlier nine months of 2020.
As Abdul Haque, president of Bangladesh Reconditioned Vehicles Importers and Dealers Association (Barvida), put it: "We import Toyota vans from Japan and convert them into ambulances."
He said that if reconditioned cars were not remodeled into ambulances, the situation would be like India’s Kolkata, leading to sufferings for patients. He noted that it was almost impossible for the government to buy readymade ambulances costing Tk80 lakh each.
"This is because there are almost 200 million people living in this country and we need hundreds of thousands of ambulances here, which is not possible in reality. But we can provide ambulance services through vehicles like Toyota vans by spending only Tk14-15 lakh," he said.
"A few groups want to halt the reconditioned car ambulances so that they can import ambulances from India, as they know that Toyota from Japan is much better than India’s Suzuki,” he told.
"The government buys ambulances by spending more than Tk80 lakh, but those have remained unused for years. On the other hand, all our ambulances have been running for at least 20 years because we take care of them,” he further added.
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Similarly, Mohammad Alamgir, president of Dhaka Metro Ambulance Owners’ Association, said: "We have 702 registered ambulances in total. Among them, 15 are ICU facility ambulances and 100 are refrigerated vans."
"In 2020, the demand for ambulances was 50-50 among Covid and non-Covid patients. But this year, 90% are Covid patients who needed ambulances and the demand has increased in the last one month as Covid-19 transmission has increased," he said.
He told Dhaka Tribune that the association was affiliated under 999, 16263, and 333 emergency call services as well.
"If you go to Bogra from Dhaka in a normal ambulance, you will need Tk12,000 but when you take an ICU ambulance, it will cost TK30,000," he said, citing an example of the fare rates of ambulance services in Dhaka .
Md Babul, an ambulance driver, said at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH): "The demand for ambulances has increased, but now patients want ambulances with high-flow oxygen facilities. But we can't provide that."
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, DMCH Director Brig Gen Nazmul Haque echoed the views of the Barvida president: "DMCH has 8 ambulances in total, which includes one ICU ambulance. It's not possible for the government to arrange more ambulances like these for a hospital like DMCH."
He acknowledged the shortage of ambulances in government facilities, but praised the hospital’s lone ICU ambulance, claiming it to be unique and equipped with state-of-the-art facilities.
"Every day almost 40 die here, 200-250 are discharged. So, we need at least 150-200 ambulances regularly and it will be a luxury for the government to arrange such ambulances at the present cost,” he added.