Waqas A. Khan

Waqas A. Khan

Helping the helpless

“Samaritans laws, infrastructure or behavioral change”

Along our highways and motorways, many of us have witnessed unfortunate victims laying on ground, crying for help after being involved in an accident. Dozens will stop, see the faces of their country- men, their broken bones and blood pouring from their bodies, but who among us has offered our vehicles to rush these desperate souls to the hospital.

Instead satisfied that the victims are not a friend or relative or friend, the most we offer is to call 1122 or 15 to summon first-responders or officials. Although throughout the major cities of Punjab — and on the national highway — the response of rescue rate of 1122 has been quite impressive. But the response facility is not readily available to 70 percent of Pakistanis in Punjab, Sind, KPK, Baluchistan, AJK and GB who live in villages. So it’s easy to understand that often in these cases, most victims expire either on the spot or during delayed transportation in police vehicles or private carriers in the presence of police.

The quandary I must pose today is this: How, as bystanders, can we fail to tend to our native brothers and sisters — the ill, the injured, those in peril or anyone otherwise incapacitated when we have been ordained to be in a position to offer assistance to fellow humans?

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics released the data on traffic accidents from 2004-2013 that shows an average of 15 people die on Pakistan’s roads each day. And an alarming 55 percent of people injured in accidents die on the spot or because of emergency assistance delays. In these years 51,416 people died in 97,739 accidents. The accident mortality ratio was highest in Sindh (86%), followed by Baluchistan (65%), Punjab (52%) and KPK (36%).

Such disturbing data suggests this is an important public policy that needs to be tackled by lawmakers and the government. Until then, there is a dire need to make the emergency help a plausible and rewarding act to attract public response in such situations.

Although emergency service acts and laws protect volunteers from any legal retribution, liability, claims or demands against them, the practice of true Samaritan-like acts and laws have failed to alter the behavior of some doctors. Without painting with too broad of a brush, there are too many instances in which victims who are incapable of paying for the medical services they need, are met with doctors unable to summon non-economic compassion.

And the major hospitals in our cities are failing us as well. These hospitals, as well as the Basic Health Units (BHU), Rural Health Centers (RHC), Tehsil Headquarter Hospitals (THQ) — and in some cases even the District Head Quarter Hospital (DHQ) — lack necessary space and facilities to treat such patients.

In a country of 200 million, there are 12 major tertiary-care hospitals in Punjab, with a population of 103 million souls. The number of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds in these 12 facilities add up to only 250. Surprised? There are just 34 ICU beds and 54 ventilators at the 1,250 bed Jinnah Hospital in Lahore. Only 48 ventilators are available at the 2,200-bed Mayo Hospital; 43 will be found at the 1,200- bed Services Hospital Lahore. And In South Punjab, the 1,450-bed Bahawal Victoria Hospital has just six ICU beds. Such a paucity of ICU and emergency resources leave doctors, who already are treating two or three persons on one ICU bed, thoroughly unimpressed by the beautiful Samaritan laws that exist in our country.

Then there are demands for police reports — and other delay tactics — that certainly are not new.

The Punjab Emergency Service Act 2006 provides immunity to volunteers, stating, “an act or omission committed by an employee of the Service, or a volunteer, shall not, if committed in good faith for the purpose of exercising the functions of or assisting the Service, subject such employee or volunteer personally to any legal action, liability, claim or demand.” It further states that all actions, proceedings and claims against any such employee or a volunteer in relation to any act done or omitted to be done in good faith, shall be defended and indemnified by the Service.”

Similar laws exist in other provinces, too. But despite words, there is plausible reticence — and indignation — when being called upon to become involved.

Gawking bystanders routinely hesitate to help victims for fear of police harassment. Repeated questioning by the police, multiple summonses from courts and fear of prosecution for contributing to unintentional accidental deaths prevent these passersby from extending a helping hand.

Then there are the heirs of the victims who pressure police to press murder charges; is it any wonder that drivers who strike others are conditioned to flee? Some unfortunate motorists have fallen victims, themselves, when indignant crowds burned their vehicles and attacked them in retribution for having contributed to someone else’s death.

It certainly doesn’t seem there is sufficient reason to help others in their seminal hours of need. And then there’s this self-serving viewpoint: Police believe that in many cases the first responder has been guilty of committing the same crime he reported, thus rendering any supposed protective immunity illegally moot. But from their point of view, these often are offenders who would go free — and then where would the justice be for the original victim(s)? Court-mandated technology could be helpful here.

But such good intentions must be better defined — and encouraged — within our laws and our land. Eyewitnesses must be comfortable coming forward. To ever get to this point, we much foment trust and encourage people — our brothers and sisters — to willingly help victims in such emergency situations. For example, these volunteers never should have to reveal their identities or personal details.

They should only have to submit to interviews just once. They, along with potential Samaritan rescuers, must never be harassed, intimidated or hassled by the doctors or the courts, either. Oh, and that aforementioned technology — such as video conferencing — should be used to capture and validate their statements.

Outside of the humane boundaries of decency we must finally and forcefully deal with institutional malfeasance. All registered public and private hospitals shall no longer demand money for registration and admission of an injured patient unless the person who has transported the victim is a relative. Those who have been injured must be provided appropriate treatment — and without delay. I call for a minimum of at least 2 percent of these institutions’ annual lofty profits to be dedicated to providing free treatment for those severely injured and/or incapacitated on our highways.

No, we surely do not need a new Samaritan Law; we just need of find and unleash a modicum of human dignity — within police stations, hospitals and our own hardened hearts. Only then will we finally overcome the unacceptable behaviors we too-willingly ignore that contribute to the hundreds of gallons of blood spilled on our nation’s roads and highways each day.

If you dare, close your eyes and ask yourself; “How would I want my friends and/or loved ones treated by our fellow citizens, police and medical treatment centers?”

And you had better decide quickly, because such life-altering moments only take an instant to happen.

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Dr. Waqas A. Khan is a Journalist - Educationist - Lawyer from Kasur Pakistan.