Is the LDF Government Planning to Scrap the Air Ambulance Project Even before Take Off?

The Left Democratic Front’s (LDF) election slogan ‘LDF Varum Ellam Sheriyakum’ was an eye-catching one. How far it is being implemented though is another question altogether.

During its last few months, the United Democratic Front (UDF) government led by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy inaugurated an air ambulance service in the State. It was meant to facilitate the speedy transportation of organs harvested from brain-dead donors. However, it seems as though the current government wants to shut down the service. The reason for such a move is said to be the reluctance of the government to shoulder such a big expense.

Up until now, the Indian Navy’s air crafts have been used to transport harvested organs from one city to the other, a recent example being when such an aircraft was used to transport the heart from a brain-dead man to another person awaiting transplant at Lisie Hospital in Kochi.

The UDF government had inaugurated the air ambulance project officially in March, 2016 and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Kerala Network for Organ Sharing (KNOS), Mrithasanjeevani and The Rajiv Gandhi Academy for Aviation Technology. According to the MoU, “the academy would run the air ambulance service.”

The twin-engine air craft is said to have been purchased for Rs. 7 crore from the US by the academy in 2014. It is continues to be grounded as the Director General of Civil Aviation’s approval is yet to be taken for the air craft. The availability of a pilot is also a concern.

While the air ambulance that belongs to the academy costs Rs.40,000 per hour, it is still much cheaper compared to hiring private air crafts to transport harvested organs.

Bureaucrats have been reluctant to confirm the plans of dropping the project. When The Kochi Post contacted Dr. Ramesh R., Director of Health Services, he refused to elaborate on the issue.

He said, “I don’t deal with the air ambulance section.” He then passed on the buck to the Kerala Medical Service Corporation Limited, saying it is this body that deals with the air ambulance. This is a curious move, given that Dr. Ramesh himself is on the board of directors of the Corporation.

Health Minister K.K. Shylaja Teacher, the former Health Minister V.S. Sivakumar, and Mrithasanjeevani State Convener Dr. Thomas Mathew remained unavailable for comments.

Even though the government claims that taking on this project will be expensive, it would do good to consider the positive side to having such a service as well. Thousands of people await transplants every year. If there is a quick transportation facility, this would be beneficial for those on the transplant list. And since the aircraft has already been purchased, wouldn’t it be better if the authorities can figure out an alternative way to maintain it, rather than scrap the project itself?

Main photograph by LDF Keralam, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.

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