There is everything officially adult about it. The Lifeline Express or LLE as the acronym goes, a train which is a mobile hospital providing medical care for the rural poor, turned 21 yesterday. It passed into official adulthood, not with the usual hoopla or revelry to celebrate this significant milestone. In fact, it had a quiet birthday at the Katni Railway Station in Madhya Pradesh, where it is stationed currently.
Impact India Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Founder Director Zelma Lazarus says, “The train's 21st birthday was celebrated with a pledge of commitment to continue service for the prevention and cure of disablement to the rural poor of the country.” The Lifeline Express is an Impact India Foundation initiative.
The Lifeline Express also colloquially called the ‘Jaadu Gaadi’ (magical train) is going to be at Madhya Pradesh till July 22, after which it will trundle out of the station on the broad gauge tracks that it runs on, all through India to its next destination in Andhra Pradesh. This most unique train in the country, in fact, the world’s first hospital train and the only such train in India has siblings across the world. It has been replicated with three 16-coach trains in China, one in Central Africa and River Boat Hospitals in Bangladesh and Cambodia. What do they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery? Ah well, for the Lifeline Express, India, there’s little time to preen. The staff strength of 14 is frantically busy working in its five coaches, with two operation theatres and five operating tables. Some of the most common procedures on the LLE are restoration of sight, movement, hearing and correction of cleft lips, treatment for neurological problems and dental care.
Some Mumbai professionals who have been on the Lifeline Express are Dr Ninad S Gaikwad, Professor and Head, Dept. of ENT & Head Neck Surgery, Dr Taral Nagda Paediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon and Dr (Mrs) Vinita Puri, Plastic Surgeon. Dr Nagda, of Hinduja Hospital Mumbai has been on the Lifeline Express several times now. Says Dr Nagda, “I think it was nearly 18 years ago, that I was on the train as a medical student. Then, I went again as a resident orthopaedic doctor and have been on the train after that too. Earlier, we would see a lot of polio cases, now, though, these are negligible. What we are treating now are many cases of cerebral palsy, which occurs because of a brain injury at a very young age or in pre-term deliveries. Many of these deliveries done in rural areas are by midwives and home deliveries, where the oxygen may be delayed resulting in cerebral palsy. The team conducts a multi-disciplinary evaluation and we give splints and suggest home therapy,” says Nagda. For the doc, “The most amazing part of the Lifeline journey is the rural reach of this train. There is a light of hope in everybody’s hearts that someday, somewhere, somebody can cure their child and we are very fortunate to be able to ensure that the light of hope never goes out.”
In an age when the doc's white coat has become sullied with allegations of corruption and commercialism, these docs prove that the entire medical fraternity cannot be tarred with the same brush. All these services are “donated” that means done free of charge by doctors, who stay at hotels and inns when on the Lifeline Express. Says Nagda, “It is a matter of perspective. When you see a candle burning, there is bound to be some smoke, some blackening. Do you see the black or the flame? It is a matter of how you see it.”
Meanwhile Lazarus, is expecting the clichéd question, “Now, that the Lifeline is 21, what do you think of the future?” She has an unexpected answer to that one though. “I hope the train becomes defunct,” says the CEO who adds that in all they have treated seven lakh people till now. “I want the Lifeline to become obsolete simply because there should be health services in every corner of the country. We do not need a train to go to people. Health is the right of the people. So, I want no more Lifelines,” says Lazarus who helped China set up three Lifeline Express trains, “Around the time when Hong Kong went to China,” and, “one in Central Africa which starts from Harare in Zimbabwe as well as a river boat hospital in Bangladesh and a river boat clinic in Cambodia. One cannot call the Cambodia initiative a full-fledged hospital.”
Post Madhya Pradesh, the Lifeline Express is set to chug into Mumbai for maintenance purposes after which it will head to Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh. “It will be at the workshop in Matunga, post which we hope to display it at the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) like we have done before, but, those plans have still to be firmed up,” ends Lazarus.
If the display part fructifies then, the teeming crowds at CST will surely have an opportunity to gape at a fully-grown adult. An adult who just celebrated its 21st birthday, had a smooth childhood, an angst-free teenage phase (no acne and rebellion there) to transition into a very responsible 21 years. On a more serious note, the Lifeline Express will make the Mumbaikar, who lives life at express pace, pause for a few precious seconds to think: my commuting depends on them, but there is a more meaningful line than the Central Line, the Western Line or the Harbour Line. That ‘more meaningful’ is the Lifeline.