RC Rourkela Royal offers critical care ambulance for neonates

With the implementation of its first global grant, the Rotary Club of Rourkela Royal, RI District 3261, has taken a big leap towards the objective of saving precious lives of infants, and making a dent in the abysmal numbers that the state of Odisha has when it comes to infant mortality.

TRF Trustee Vice Chair Bharat Pandya (second from R) with (from R) RC Rourkela Royal past president Ajay Agarwal, DG Manjit Singh Arora, RID 3012 PDG Ashok Aggarwal, club president Sudhir Lath, and DGND Alam Singh Roopra (far left) after inaugurating the ambulance.

“We were shocked when Dr P Lall, a leading paediatrician in Rourkela, who heads the special paediatric facility called Aastha Mother and Child Care Hospital, contacted us about two years ago and shared with us the dismal statistics about Odisha when it comes to infant mortality,” recalls past president of the club Ajay Agarwal. The statistics shared by Dr Lall stated that Odisha has one of the poorest records in India and is near the bottom of the pile when it comes to IMR (Infant Mortality Rate) at 37/1,000 live births which is the third highest in India. The national average IMR in India at present is 22/1,000 live births.

“Dr Lall explained to us that about 60 to 70 per cent of these deaths fall in the neonatal period (first four weeks). Many such infants who are either preterm babies, or suffer from birth asphyxia and certain congenital and other conditions requiring quick surgical intervention, need effective and urgent transport to well-equipped and specialised paediatric centres where qualified doctors can save these precious lives,” says Agarwal.

But the main problem is that such specialised centres providing critical and life-saving care to such babies are very few and in select cities only. Hence critically-ill babies require good transport over long distances in specially equipped ambulances. “The available ambulances were woefully inadequate to meet this need both in terms of equipment and skilled manpower. He stressed the need for not only good transport with specialised equipment but also effective care by trained persons enroute to a specialised centre, and sought our help to get such an ambulance.”

Once the paediatrician shared the heartbreaking statistics with the Rotarians that nearly 44 per cent of the neonates who finally reach a well-equipped paediatric facility in ordinary vans or other vehicles, reach such centres either dead or having developed severe complications that result in long term morbidity, the dye was cast. “The doctor told us that he was pained to note that most babies came from long distances to his hospital either lifeless or in a very sorry condition just because of poor means of transport and lack of timely care on the way.”

Being associated with this club’s members for other earlier projects as well, he urged the Rotarians to undertake the project to make available a state-of-the-art ambulance for the worthy cause of saving neonatal lives. “The cost (₹33 lakh) and complexity of the project was a challenge because not only was the capital cost high, there was also a high running and maintenance cost involved, along with the need to have trained manpower on standby at all times in order to effectively operate the ambulance. But challenge is what excites Rotarians of RC Rourkela Royal the most,” he smiles.

While the worldwide neonatal mortality rate is 15 per 1,000 live births, in India this figure is 22, that of Odisha is alarmingly high at 37. When you consider this, this project is really meeting a critical need of Odisha and the local community.
– Dr Bharat Pandya, TRF Trustee Vice Chair

Very soon, Ajay Agarwal, as the project chair, and his team decided to get such a special, well-equipped ambulance, through a global grant and some CSR funds. The project was aptly named Ummeed (hope). “According to the detailed specifications given by Dr Lall, we decided to get a specialised vehicle with over a dozen equipment that can ensure the safe transportation of the infant from the birthplace to the hospitals with modern facilities. With this essential and godsend ambulance, we hope to prevent as many deaths and disabilities as possible that result from improper transport of neonates in non-equipped vehicles,” he says.

With DRFC Ranjit Saini helping them identify an international partner from Nepal — Rotary Club of Pashupati, RID 3292, Kathmandu — and corporates such as Kai International, Bhaskar Steel and Ferro Alloy coming on board, they applied for a global grant around September 2023.

Trustee vice-chair Dr Pandya inaugurating the ambulance at the district conference. PP Ajay Agarwal, PDG Ashok Aggarwal and club president Sudhir Lath cheer on.

With Dr Lall guiding them to order the specific medical equipment required, the project was completed in a record time of seven months, and on Feb 29, a fully equipped neonatal ambulance was put into service for the people of Rourkela and surrounding areas by Dilip Tirkey, Hockey India president. The final challenge was where to place the ambulance so that anybody can use its service. Sushant Acharya, CEO of Hitech Medical College and Hospital, volunteered to take charge of the operation and maintenance of the ambulance, and also provide the services of trained personnel to operate it.

Inaugurating the ambulance at RID 3261’s district conference at Jharsuguda, TRF trustee vice-chair Bharat Pandya said that when a child is born, till 28 days, it is known as a neonate, and this is a very critical stage in the survival and growth of an infant. “During its first 28 days, the chances of something going wrong and the infant dying are very high. While the worldwide neonatal mortality rate is 15 per 1,000 live births, in India this figure is 22, that of Odisha is alarmingly high at 37. When you consider this, this project is really meeting a critical need of Odisha and the local community, and I congratulate you for providing this much needed ambulance to your local community.”

We gave the application in Aug–Sep 2023, and got the approval by December! My experience has been that the RI staff is so meticulous and if you do things properly, and follow all the rules and guidelines, the approval hardly takes any time..
– Ajay Agarwal, Project Chairman

Agarwal thanks Kai International, Bhaskar Steel and Ferro Alloy for donating CSR funds to the tune of ₹20 lakh for this project, and DG Manjit Singh Arora. One of the directors of these companies, Suresh Agarwal, is a member of the executing club, and all its members, led by its president Sudhir Lath, Ajay Agarwal, secretary Rakesh Agarwal and treasurer Abhishek Patnaik also contributed.

“We are so proud that Rotary has provided this first-of-its-kind facility in our city and a much-needed service that will go a long way in saving lives of newborn babies. This is a feather in the cap of not only our club but also District 3261 and Rotary as a whole. As one of our team members, Suresh Agarwal, aptly put it, the breakeven of the project will be achieved as soon as even one life of a newborn is saved with the help of Ummeed!”

Helpline number for this special ambulance service: 90821 83896.

Quick approval of GG

On his experience in getting the global grant of around ₹33 lakh for a modern, well-equipped state-of-the-art ambulance for neonates, approved in a “record time of a few months,” past president of RC Rourkela Royals and project chair of Ummeed Ajay Agarwal is all gratitude. I ask him this question about his experience in the backdrop of several Indian Rotarians complaining about delays in getting GGs approved.

Adds Agarwal, “I am happy to share that the approval came in the record time of a few months. We gave the application in Aug-Sep 2023, and got the approval by December! My experience has been that the RI staff is so meticulous and if you do things properly, and follow all the rules and guidelines, the approval hardly takes any time. But you have to follow the process, which I must point out, is so clear and user-friendly. Those who complain, are surely making mistakes because I found all the instructions to be crystal clear. The problem is that most of us don’t know what is to be done, when and how, and this is because nobody gives us practical training! What we get is theory all the time…” He advocates a structured and proper training process on how to apply for a global grant.

He, of course, has prior experience with global grant applications, having helped his wife Rashmi Agarwal, who was then the president of RC Rourkela Queens, to prepare a ₹26 lakh global grant application for a mobile eye clinic. “That was again done in a record time of about 7–8 months… we applied for the GG and handed over the van in the same year.”

He is now guiding a few more clubs in the district on how to apply for global grants, an immediate one being for a dialysis unit.

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