Hospital on wheels: An Express medical train that is the lifeline of rural India

India holds the distinction of having some of the best railway systems in the world. A country with the largest rail network in the world, India also features among the top countries that is a must-see by train. There are cheap general category trains, regal luxury trains, slow running trains, point to point express trains along with mountain toy trains and underwater trains in India. Around 20 types of trains are currently on the tracks. 

Jeevan Express or Lifeline Express is the latest addition to Indian railways. If the world’s first hospital on a train started from Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in 1991, the Lifeline Express offers a multitude of medical services, from major surgeries to cancer treatment. The idea was to give medical aid to the people of rural India, especially those who do not get easy access to healthcare facilities. 

“The Lifeline Express train is presently stationed at the Badarpur station in Lumding Div. of NFR in Assam serving patients free of cost. The train is equipped with 2 modern operation theatres,5 operating tables & other facilities” - the Indian railways had tweeted it on their official Twitter page. 

It was the Mumbai based NGO, Impact India Foundation who proposed the idea to the Ministry of Railways. Shortly afterwards, the Indian Railways (IR) and IIF signed a deal (MoU) under which the Railways agreed to provide a three-coach train, supply water and electricity and maintain it, while the NGO would operate the medical services. The funding is provided by IIF, National Charitable Organisations, Indian Corporations and other individuals. Not just India, this is the first of its Medical Express train in the world and has inspired similar endeavours in India and other countries.  

Initially, the Express train contained only three coaches, including an operation theatre. Sponsored by private and public organisations, the Lifeline Express’s projects so far have treated over a million poor people in rural parts of the country free of cost. The train has conducted around 93 projects so far in India. In the revamped train, they have added 5 new coaches as well. 

Today they are equipped with A/C coaches, power car, 12-berthed staff quarters, a well-stocked pantry, water purifier, gas stove, electric oven, and refrigerator. There is an eye-testing unit, dental unit, an x-ray unit, pharmacy, a mammography unit, a gynaecology examination room, a pathology lab, patient wards, 5 operating tables, consultation cubicles, an auditorium armed with an LCD unit and state-of-the-art operation theatres. The train is fitted with close circuit Television and public address systems. 

Nearly 2 lakh medical professionals from across the world are offering free services. Children and physically challenged people are given top priority. They are also focussed on offering medical help to those who are affected by natural calamities and pandemics. 

The train will stop at each place for 20-25 days. They regularly camp in different parts of India to conduct medical projects that offer free consultation, treatment, and surgeries in various specialities. Usually, a medical team would visit the area to evaluate the health supplies including disability data and vital health indicators. Later they would team up with the primary health centre or community health centre to prepare a list of those who require surgeries.

Life Express relies on community participation and gets help from local villages and non-governmental organizations who offer food and laundry services to find accommodations for post-operative patients and family who accompany them. They conduct medical awareness camps for local doctors, and school students. 

The facility is available from January 5 to 24 for the people of Barak Valley. 

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