In the first week of April, Abdus Salam was driving a stroke patient in his ambulance to the capital from Brahmanbaria, an eastern Bangladesh district. It took the vehicle nearly four hours to make the 110km journey to enter Dhaka city and was immediately stuck in typical Dhaka traffic that ate up three more hours.
After the painstaking journey wailing siren and using the wrong side of the lane, when Salam managed to reach the National Institute of Neurosciences Hospital in Agargaon, the patient's condition deteriorated significantly. Eventually, he died.
"We are left with no choice but to use the wrong side of lanes when we transport critical patients and Dhaka roads are clogged. Often a five-minute drive takes more than two hours," said Salam, clearly frustrated.
Ambulance drivers said they often carry critical patients on the wrong lane after requesting police. But when both the lanes are gridlocked, they can only wait regardless of the patient's condition.
Ambulance driver Sohrab Ali said although police allow them to take the wrong lane when transporting patients to hospitals, they cannot do the same when they are en route to pick up the patients; in case they are forced to use the wrong lane they are slapped with a fine.
"It happens rather often that critical patients are pronounced dead after we reach the hospital," he added.
Dr Shafiqul Islam, associate professor (neurosurgery) of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, told The Business Standard that for a stroke patient, the sooner the treatment begins, the better.
"Every minute is important for a stroke patient. But critical hours are often wasted in traffic congestion," he said.
The physician added that stroke-led disability risks for patients are reduced if the treatment can begin within four hours of the stroke. But most patients cannot avail treatment within that time frame due to jam.
Prof Dr Harisul Hoque, Head of clinical cardiology at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University told TBS that delayed arrival of cardiac patients in hospital due to traffic congestion is a common problem.
"Delays in cardiac treatment reduce chances for survival. In case of cardiac arrest, every minute is vital," he added.
Shaikh Muhammad Mehedi Ahsan, general secretary of the Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP), said, "By building unplanned cities, we have essentially become an inhuman nation even though we are registering remarkable economic development."
He stressed that separate lanes are essential for emergency services including ambulances, and said the capacity of the road has been reduced due to garbage dumping, illegal parking and the ongoing construction of metro rail. Hawkers and vendors have also added to the problem by illegally occupying the sidewalks.
"The full capacity of the existing road needs to be used if we want to introduce emergency lanes," he added.