It was the first time in 167 years that Asia’s oldest rail network was shut down.
The network, which is the fourth largest rail operator in the world and India’s largest employer, already operates 125 hospitals across the country and therefore has the know-how to expand to mobile beds.
“Now the railways offer patients a clean, hygienic and hygienic environment in which they can relax comfortably,”
India’s rail network
Indian Railways typically runs more than 20,000 passenger trains a day on long-distance and suburban routes from 7,349 stations across India.
The closure put almost 67,368 kilometers of track out of service – enough to circumnavigate the equator 1.5 times – and left thousands of passenger trains idle. Freight trains or freight trains, as they are called in India, remain in operation.
Train chiefs have instructed each of India’s 16 railroad zones to identify non-air-conditioned cars that are no longer operating on passenger routes to convert them to hospitals, and to prepare them for use in an emergency.
The first 5,000 isolation stations will be ready within 14 days, and additional wagons can be converted within 48 hours if necessary, said Rajesh Dutt Bajpai, executive director of information and public relations for the rail authority.
In addition to a nursing station, a doctor’s cabin and space for medical care and equipment, each sanitary cart can accommodate up to 16 patients.
As soon as the trains are ready, they will be sent to any location where a hospital bed crisis could occur due to a possible increase in positive cases.
Local health authorities will assign trains to government doctors, paramedics, nurses and volunteers.
The Indian government has also instructed railroad factories to investigate the feasibility of manufacturing hospital beds, stretchers, medical trolleys, masks, disinfectants, aprons, and medical devices such as ventilators for use in railroad hospitals and other government hospitals.
Lack of bed
India had a shortage of hospital beds even before the pandemic.
For example, in the eastern state of Bihar there are 0.11 beds per 1,000 inhabitants, while in West Bengal there are 2.5 beds per 1,000 inhabitants.
China has a national average of four hospital beds per 1,000 residents – and that was before it built a 1,000-bed hospital in Hubei Province, the epicenter of its outbreak, in 10 days.
“We have seen what China has been through. It is imperative to increase this density more systematically in the short and long term once this outbreak is over,” said Shahid Jameel, an Indian virologist and CEO of the Wellcome Trust / DBT India Alliance, a nonprofit organization that funds research in health and biomedicine.
With the growing number of Covid-19 positive cases, experts say that the lack of robust public health care remains India’s greatest challenge.
“It (isolation stations in railway wagons) is a good initiative. The railways and the government should be commended for this,” said Indian virologist Jameel.
“However, this is only a short-term solution. When this is over (and it will be), it should be a wake-up call to invest more in improving health infrastructure and research.”
Hospital on wheels
Indian Railways has experience operating train hospitals. The Lifeline Express, launched in 1991, offers on-site diagnostic, medical, and advanced surgical treatments for adults and children.
In its 29 years of service, the wheeled hospital has traveled to 19 Indian states and treated over 1 million people.
The hospital train is equipped to treat a variety of diseases, from cataracts, lip tears, hearing problems and epilepsy to mobility problems, plastic surgery, dental surgery, cancer screening and much more.
The Lifeline Express is equipped with an operating room, treatment rooms, recovery stations, a storage trolley and accommodation for medical personnel.
The new corona virus trains are not designed as full-service hospitals, but local health authorities have the option to use them for Covid-19 positive patients who are not critically ill.