Motor-bike ambulance: Providing accessibility to health services in India’s remote regions

With UNICEF support, now modified four-stroke motorcycles, which works as a ‘Motor-Bike Ambulance’, is proving to be a boon for the people of the region, bridging the last mile to health care.

Sonia Sarkar
Mobile ambulance.
18 February 2020

The Narayanpur district in the central-eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh is surrounded by dense forests, hills, streams and natural caves. About 1,000 sq km of the district – which is about 186,873 football fields – is forest. Tribal communities comprise more than 77 per cent of the total population of the district and they live in sparsely scattered settlements, usually having only 20 inhabitants per sq km. 

The topography of the region presents a huge challenge not only for the distribution of health services, but for mothers, fathers, parents and families to avail transport services.  

With UNICEF support, now modified four-stroke motorcycles, which works as a ‘Motor-Bike Ambulance’, is proving to be a boon for the people of the region, bridging the last mile to health care. The motorcycle ambulances ferry patients and pregnant women and infants, from remote areas to the nearest primary and Community Health Centers (CHCs) and have emerged as a lifesaver for the people of the region.  

These ambulances are fitted with a side-carriage for the comfort of the patient and are equipped with medicines and a functional first-aid kit to meet emergency needs. The ambulances are operated by skilled drivers adept in providing first-aid. The concept has already seen much success in African countries. The free service assumes significance for a country like India where the maternal mortality rate (MMR) is 122 per 100,000 live births, many of whom can't get to the hospital in time. 

Job Zachariah, Chief of Field Office, Chhattisgarh shared with us that the project was designed and initiated in June 2014 with UNICEF’s support, in association with SAATHI Samaj Sewa Sanstha, an NGO and the state government’s Health Department. The Motor-Bike Ambulance was selected as a national innovation and recognized in the National Innovations Summit, India, in 2016. 

Since its inception, 14 more motorcycle ambulances have been deployed in Chhattisgarh with government funding, which have transported over 7,900 women and infants to hospitals and CHCs.  

Luigi D’Aquino, Chief of Health, UNICEF India, highlighted that the motorcycle ambulances were a good example of addressing inequity in heath in some of the most difficult areas of the state and a step towards ensuring Universal Health Coverage. 

The initiative has significantly contributed towards bringing the MMR in the state down to 141 from 173 per 100,000 live births in 2014-2016, and also helped raising the number of institutional deliveries. For example, in Orcha Block of Narayanpur district, 35 per cent of the deliveries now are institutional, in comparison to 5 per cent in 2012. 

Given the hard to reach topography, the ambulances also ferry women, newborns and infants to weekly rural markets, which serve as a meeting point for mothers from tribal communities. The market places have government-supported medical stalls that provide regular health check-ups and immunization services. Women health workers and auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs) identify and bring children from villages, who then receive life-saving vaccine shots at these camps. Afterwards, the women and children are transported back to their villages by the Motor-Bike Ambulance.  

Additional links:

Radio story on Deutche Welle radio please see: 

Motorcycle ambulances save lives in India - DW  

Motorcycle-ambulances help saves lives in Chhattisgarh forests

Audio Podcast on Radio France International

Chhattisgarh motorbike ambulances improve lives for pregnant women