November 26, 2014

Ambulance Volunteers Save Lives in Vientiane

Volunteers save lives in Vientiane, Laos, where road toll is among world's worst
By Anne Barker, ABC (Australia), November 24, 2014

Photo Credit:  Anne Barker.  Sebastien Perret and Vientiane Rescue volunteers try to extract a young driver trapped and injured in a smashed truck.
Photo Credit:  Anne Barker.  Sebastien Perret and Vientiane Rescue volunteers try to extract a young driver trapped and injured in a smashed truck.

Vientiane has been dubbed the most relaxed capital in the world, with its wide boulevards, low-rise buildings, and sleepy, colonial charm.

But come nightfall the streets in this laid-back city become extremely dangerous and lawless.

Speed limits in Laos are rarely enforced. There's not a single red-light camera, no roadside breath units, and underage and unlicensed driving is rife.

The high amount of drink driving and speeding at night is frightening. Add to this a national obsession with driving up the wrong side of the road, and it is little wonder Vientiane has arguably the worst road toll per capita in Asia, and one of the worst in the world.

It's 11:00pm in Vientiane. A motorcyclist flies along at breakneck speed with no helmet, several drinks under his belt, and little regard for the traffic light ahead.

Suddenly from nowhere, a truck ploughs through the intersection and impales him on a fence. He lies unconscious and bleeding at the side of the road, with spinal injuries.

A passing pedestrian finds him but what can she do? This is not Australia or even the West, but impoverished Laos, where emergency services barely exist.

Her only option is to put the man in a tuk-tuk rickshaw and send him to a hospital. But the tuk-tuk driver refuses - he doesn't want blood on his seats.

The official ambulances are only used to transfer patients between hospitals. So without assistance from volunteers, serious accident victims would be - and often are - left to die on the side of the road.

"I would say between one to three people die on the roads here every day," says Sebastien Perret, a French paramedic who helped set up volunteer emergency service Vientiane Rescue.

"Of those we take to hospital about 50 per cent die. Even the hospitals have few skills, little training, and scant materials to save lives.

"I'd say as many as seven people a day die in Vientiane, on the roads or soon after."

To read more, click here to go to Australia's ABC site.

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