India-funded free ambulance service to Sri Lanka is playing a vital role in Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 response. India has provided a grant of 7.56 million dollars for the SuwaSeriya [vehicle or journey for good health] service as per Sri Lanka’s request.
The service had launched in 2016 with 88 ambulances in Sri Lanka’s Western and Southern Provinces. The ‘1990’ service was expected to expand to cover all nine provinces on the island in the next couple of years with a fleet of 297 ambulances.
With an additional Indian grant of $15.09 million, Sri Lanka purchased them from Tata Motors. This is India’s second-largest grant project on the island. The largest grant is for more than 60,000 houses for the housing project, with a nearly $400-million grant. “Over the last few months, the ‘1990 SuwaSeriya’ Emergency Ambulance service has doubled its efforts, attending not just to medical emergencies, but also helping us transfer COVID-19 patients, including those with co-morbidities, to hospitals swiftly,” said Dr. Sunil de Alwis, Additional Secretary, Medical Services, Ministry of Health.
An idea to launch such an ambulance service was born not from any high-level bilateral discussions but from a proposal put forward by the then junior minister and current opposition parliamentarian Harsha de Silva, after his own personal experience while trying to hospitalise his friend who met with an accident. “Sri Lanka didn’t have a pre-hospital emergency ambulance service until 2016. That experience taught me how crucial an ambulance could be in such situations. When I heard India was offering a grant, I immediately made this proposal to then Prime Minister RanilWickremesinghe,” said Mr. De Silva, an MP with the main opposition party Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB, or United People’s Front) to the media.
The grant was given in the first bilateral visit of Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi in March 2015. “The Indian side put forward only one condition. That after the launch and the initial phase, the government of Sri Lanka must take over the ambulance service and run it. We readily agreed” – Mr. Silva added