It came for my grandmother within seven minutes. So it will definitely come for your loved one as well. 1990 Suwaseriya pre-hospital care ambulance service kicked off in 2016 with so many rumours, allegations and figments of imagination hindering its commencement. However, this ambulance service sped fast ahead, leaving all baseless accusations behind, and won the hearts of Sri Lankans.
This emergency ambulance service, which is provided free, was initiated in 2016 in the Western and Southern Provinces under an Indian grant of US$ 7.5 million. The grant included the purchase of 88 ambulances, operational expenditure of the service for one year, and setting up of an emergency response centre.
The service is now being expanded to the other seven provinces with an additional grant of US$ 15.02 million, covering the cost of 209 ambulances, training costs and operational expenditure for one year.
India has granted a total of US$ 22 million for the whole project, to date. There are 143 ambulances currently deployed in the Suwaseriya service so far, 56 for Western Province and 32 for the Southern Province. The emergency ambulance service, which can be obtained by dialing the toll free number ‘1990’ on any network in Sri Lanka, is one of the largest Indian grant projects in Sri Lanka.
On August 24, Uva Province received 26 fully furnished ambulances along with foreign-trained staff as a part of the extension of this ambulance service islandwide. Accordingly, Hali-Ela, Badulla, Bandarawela, Moneragala and many other areas will receive this service. These ambulances will be stationed at 26 selected police stations and the respective ambulances were handed over to the OICs at the public grounds at Hali-Ela in the Badulla district, under the patronage of Assistant High Commissioner of India Dhirendra Singh, Digital Infrastructure and Foreign Employment Minister Harin Fernando, and Economic Affairs State Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva.
According to Suwaseriya’s service record as of today, it has serviced 91,547 persons in emergency situations. The service has also recorded 12 minutes and 57 seconds of average response time from reception of the emergency call to the ambulance reaching the patient.
According to the statistics, more than half a million calls have been received by the central operations control centre of this service and 98.7 percent of these calls have been answered within two seconds.
The Suwaseriya ambulance service call centre is now considered the most efficient in the country. Thirty-two emergency child births have taken place in the ambulances where both mother and the child have been safely taken to hospitals for medical care.
State Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva, the visionary behind this ambulance service, said that a total of 300 ambulances will be deployed to the fleet when the service is extended islandwide.
State Minister Dr. de Silva said that the number of required ambulances is decided by a software application, and if more ambulances are needed, the government will take necessary steps to acquire them.
“Two years back, we started this service in Hambantota, Galle, Matara, Kalutara, Gampaha and Colombo,” State Minister Dr. de Silva said. “In July, we extended the service to the Nothern Province. Suwaseriya now provides its service to the Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Vavuniya and Mullativu districts. This service is one of the most prominent projects implemented by this government. This service was gifted to us by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has pledged his continued assistance to spread this service across the country.”
“People in developing countries do not receive a free ambulance service. If you are rich and have purchased a subscription, a private ambulance service will come to you. But most of us cannot afford such a thing. However, in developed countries, there is a free emergency service provided for the public. Our target is to provide a free ambulance service that will reach any citizen in the country within 15 minutes,” the State Minister said.
State Minister de Silva said the government took steps to pass the 1990 Suwaseriya Foundation Act in order to continue the service which started as a foreign-funded project. “Usually when the funds are over, a project shuts down. We did not want that to happen. So the government decided to take the responsibility for this project. Accordingly, we passed the 1990 Suwaseriya Foundation Act and allocated money for the continuation of the project.” The Act was passed unanimously in Parliament in May.
The Board of the Foundation will consist of three ex-officio members and four other members appointed by the President. The three ex-officio members include the Treasury Secretary, the Health Secretary and the IGP or their representatives. Four members appointed by the President should possess academic or professional qualifications and have experience in the fields of medical science, pharmaceuticals, medical technology, finance, management, administration, or law. The Foundation can receive grants, gifts or donations, and it will have its own fund. It can enter into contracts or agreements as necessary for the discharge of its functions. Members, officers and employees of the Foundation are deemed to be public servants.
Minister Harin Fernando, who was present at the launch of the service in the Uva Province, said that a request has been made for special ambulances that are compatible with the high mountain ranges in this province. He said discussions are already taking place with Suwaseriya officials with reference to these special ambulances and urged the public to discard all political points of view when looking at the Suwaseriya service. “I am disappointed when people look at this service with politically-tinted glasses. See how difficult it is when someone faces an emergency situation. You have to run around the village calling for help. Even when you find a vehicle, you don’t know the proper way to lift the patient. You might even make the patient worse from the way you are handling him or her. We don’t know first aid. People should learn to look beyond the politics and understand the services provide to the people of the country,” Minister Fernando said.
He also said that many groups alleged that this ambulance service will employ Indians whereas it has created a large number of employment opportunities for Sri Lankan youth. Minister Fernando said that a Cabinet decision was taken to allocate Rs. 600 million to establish a kidney unit at the Badulla Hospital. A cath lab will also be provided to the same hospital in the process of making Badulla Hospital as one of the main hospitals in the Uva Province.
“We are very grateful to the Indian government on behalf of the Uva Province and the citizens of Sri Lanka, for the great service that has been rendered to us,” Minister Fernando said.
Assistant High Commissioner of India Dhirendra Singh, addressing the gathering, said that he was impressed by the achievements of the Suwaseriya service.
“I was just looking at some figures, and I was really amazed that the ambulance service which started in 2016 has already reached half a million calls in two years. Another wonderful facet of this service has been that on an average, it takes only about 13 minutes to reach the people in need. It speaks of the facility that is available for these citizens. We are indeed very happy to be a part of this project in Sri Lanka. Let me admit one fact very candidly: we don’t have such a service in India, such an efficient service, such wonderful people operating it and such lucky people receiving this service,” he said.
MP Vadival Suresh, Provincial Minister Upali Samaraweera, the Badulla GA, and Uva DIG Jagath Palihakkara were also present on the occasion.