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Mumbai: It is Day 10 of the lockdown and those fighting the pandemic on the frontlines continue to be insufficiently equipped. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has made it mandatory for ambulance staff to be equipped with protective gear while carrying patients.

What is even scarier is, no sanitisation or disinfection of these vehicles takes place after the patients are dropped off at hospitals, according to these doctors and drivers.

One of the ambulance drivers told The Free Press Journal, he has ferried at least a dozen such patients in the past week, both positive and suspected, either to hospitals or quarantine centres. “Two days ago, I transported a suspected patient from Mumbai suburban to Kasturba Hospital.

I also helped lay the patient on a stretcher inside my ambulance. I realised I had exposed myself to the virus and had no hand sanitiser. I immediately bought soap to wash my hands,” he said. There is one doctor on every '108' ambulance, to accompany every patient to the hospital.

This is when doctors are exposed to the risk of contracting the virus, being in proximity to patients. Therefore, the WHO has made it mandatory for ambulance staff to be suitably geared while on the job.

Despite this, the Bharat Vikas Group, which runs the '108' ambulance service along with the state government, has not provided them with masks. Ateeq Khan, leader of the Maharashtra Mathadi Shramik Kamgar Sangharsh Union, said the union has written to the government, seeking medical insurance for CoVID-19, as they are at high risk while transporting corona patients to the hospitals.

“We are putting our lives at risk every day, carrying patients to hospitals and we are not covered by medical insurance. We have demanded a health insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh,” he said.

Also, it is essential to disinfect ambulances every time patients are taken to hospitals, to curb possible spread of the virus. “The service providers don’t even disinfect the ambulances after every trip, which makes those using the vehicles later vulnerable,” said Khan.

However, the state government says it is the responsibility of Bharat Vikas Group to provide the necessary protective kits. “It is the duty of the service providers to ensure the safety of the workers. We will look into it,” said Dr Sadhana Tayade, director, Directorate of Health Service, Maharashtra.

Chief Executive Officer Dyaneshwar Shelke too has denied these allegations, saying, “All the doctors and drivers deployed on 108 ambulances have been given the necessary protective gear to avoid getting infected.”

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