The number of ambulances hitting the streets is on the rise as businesses are spending more on import amid an increase in its demand during the ongoing pandemic.
Some 788 units of ambulances got registered in 2020, up 18 per cent year-on-year, according to data from Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA).
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"Businesses invested more in ambulance import last year after the Covid-19 outbreak, when the demand for the vehicle started increasing," said Mohammad Shahidul Islam, secretary general of the Bangladesh Reconditioned Vehicles Importers and Dealers Association (Barvida).
The demand for ambulance service increased as attendants of patients now prefer using the automobile to reach hospitals smoothly, said Md Monsurul Mamun Khan, in-charge of the ambulance service of Ad-din Hospital. He said the hospital provides 24-hour service for patients at Tk 350 per trip inside Dhaka city.
"The charge is Tk 520 per trip for carrying patients to hospitals other than Ad-din. For places outside Dhaka, an additional payment of Tk 30 per kilometre will be applied."
Khan said his company provides ambulance services to financially insolvent patients for free. "We have reserved two ambulances for transporting patients infected with coronavirus."
Around 613 private ambulance service providers are now operating in Dhaka city, according to Dhaka Metropolitan Ambulance Owners' Association.
The demand for ambulance services more than doubled in the last six months, said Alamgir Hossain, president of the association. "Now there is an acute scarcity of freezer vans in the country, which has also played a role in increasing the demand for ambulances."
Sometimes, ambulance drivers charge Tk 500 extra along with the regular fare to clean and sanitise the vehicles after carrying patients infected with Covid-19, he said.
The customs duty for customised ambulances stands at around Tk 4 lakh to Tk 5 lakh while it can be as much as Tk 15 lakh for passenger cars of the same capacity, said Mannan Chowdhury Khasru, owner of Nippon Autos Trading and a former president of Barvida.
Ambulance sales may fall this year, as businesses imported more than the requirement in 2020, he said.
"The drivers under our association have slowly learned how to handle patients infected with coronavirus during their journey to the hospitals," said Md Liton Ali Sarder, publicity secretary of Dhaka Metropolitan Ambulance Owners Association.
"We regularly clean the vehicles and use sanitisers to ensure health safety of the drivers and passengers."
Sarder said vehicles under his association provide other emergency services.
"We also work under the government's national emergency services, for which people have to dial 999."
According to the BRTA data, there are 4,702 registered ambulances in the capital and 6,938 in the entire country.
The rise in the number of coronavirus-infected patients has given a boost to the demand for ambulance services, said Md Billal Hossen, owner of Alamin Ambulance Service.
"We did not carry Covid-19 patients last year. But this year we have ensured foolproof health safety for the patients, their attendants, drivers and helpers in our ambulances."