You are here

Patients die as Manila's jams delay ambulances

Ambulance driver Joseph Laylo driving along the South Luzon Expressway near Manila; he lost a patient when congestion tripled the time to hospital.


GRIDLOCK in Manila is costing lives as ambulances stuck in traffic face severe delays in the race against the clock to reach the city's hospitals, medics warn.

Special lanes for emergency vehicles are not enforced, the infrastructure is outdated, and local drivers are often unwilling or unable to make way - a situation that experts say is causing patients to die en route.

"You feel empty. It is as if you were not given a chance to do everything in your capacity to help," ambulance driver and paramedic Joseph Laylo told AFP. "If the traffic was not that bad, it could have saved the patient," he added, recalling how he lost a patient when congestion tripled the time to hospital.

Even with an encyclopedic knowledge of short cuts or aggressive driving such as blasting their horns or bumping unyielding vehicles, it is not always enough to arrive in time.

Driver Adriel Aragon is still haunted by the experience of losing a critically ill patient when it took 40 minutes to reach the hospital - the journey should have taken half that time.

"No matter how hard we honk, even if we use our siren, if the vehicles are not moving it doesn't matter," he said of the 2014 incident.

The patient's pulse disappeared five minutes before the ambulance reached the hospital, and was pronounced dead in the emergency room.

At peak hours, the main arteries of Manila are clogged with idling cars - a 25 km end-to-end drive through the main highway can take as long as three hours.

Home to some 13 million, there is nearly one vehicle registered per person. The resulting gridlock costs the city US$67 million daily in lost productivity, according to a 2017 Japanese government-funded study.

Neither the government nor ambulance companies keep count of how many patients die in traffic each year, officials said, but emergency medical workers in the city have many horror stories.

Images of ambulances stalled in unmoving traffic jams have sparked outrage on social media in the Philippines.

A swift medical response is key to recovery, according to the American Stroke Association.

Officials like Aldo Mayor, public safety chief of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), put at least part of the blame on other road users. "Some people simply do not care. It is as if they are the only residents of this world," said Mr Mayor, whose government agency manages the capital's chaotic traffic.

He added that Manila ordinances concerning emergency vehicles, including a 2017 regulation that reserves one lane for them, are rarely enforced due to personnel constraints.

These problems come as Manila's population has roughly doubled since 1985, and its infrastructure has not kept up. Its limited system of commuter rail is augmented by jeepney mini-buses and millions of cars.

The nation's thicket of bureaucracy and deep-rooted corruption have stalled or blocked efforts to build new roads, bridges and public transit.

President Rodrigo Duterte pledged to unblock the capital's gridlock, but halfway through his term the city's main thoroughfare, EDSA, remains a parking lot at rush hour. AFP