Harish Karuvachery, 47, and Mayil Ratheesh, 42, residents of Nileshwar in Kasargod district have been selflessly serving the nation in its fight against COVID-19 by running their autorickshaws as 'ambulances' for the last two months to carry COVID-19 patients to first-line treatment centres and testing centres. They claimed to have ferried around 200 patients in a span of two months.
"But we are not running any ambulance service. We are just ferrying asymptomatic patients to testing centres or first-line treatment centres because there is a severe shortage of ambulances in Nileshwar," Harish modestly told The New Indian Express. During the period of two months, the drivers tested negative twice for COVID-19.
When the 108 Ambulance services failed to cater to rising cases of COVID-19, Nileshwar Taluk Hospital planned to assign the duo the job of ferrying patients to medical centres in August.
District COVID surveillance nodal officer Dr V Sureshan presented the idea of appointing Harish for the job and he presented the idea to hospital superintendent Dr Jamal Ahmed and health inspector Rajesh Thirthankara.
Dr Sureshan said that initially no one was willing to pick up the patients after they tested positive but Harish immediately agreed to the task.
Later, Ratheesh also joined in and now they work together. They have been provided with masks, sanitiser, spray guns, gloves and shampoo by the taluk hospital. However, Ratheesh said that they don't require PPE kits. "There is a transparent plastic sheet separating the passenger cabin and the driver's seat. We never come in contact with them," Ratheesh said.
After the completion of each trip, the drivers disinfect the passenger cabin using spray guns and wipe the seats with cotton gauze to ensure proper safety and sanitisation.
Ratheesh who has been in the auto driving business for 12 years, said that the used cotton gauzes are stored in plastic zip locks and he burns them once he reaches home. At least six-seven one-side trips are made by them daily to carry COVID suspects or patients to hospitals. Ratheesh also claims to pick patients from first-line treatment centres who have tested negative. They have even dropped patients to far off places like Cheruvathur and Ravaneshwaran.
However, the drivers believe that their job involves less risk in comparison to other autorickshaw drivers. "We know our passengers are COVID patients or suspects and we take precautions. But now COVID is so widespread that any passenger could be infected and the auto driver or the passenger may not be aware," Ratheesh said.
The fare for the patients remain regular as most of them belong to poor backgrounds and cannot afford high fares, Harish stated
Amid the ignorance and discrimination the infected patients are subjected to, people like Harish and Ratheesh are a ray of hope for such people as they consider humanity more than fear.