Social Impact: AmbuRx – Radhika Shastry, FTGMP 2003

The latest AmbuRx project taken up by Radhika Shastry is winning the hearts of people. AmbuRx is an auto-rickshaw ambulance service to ease medical access in hilly terrians of the Nilgiris. Born from a simple idea, it took immense grit and determination to pull off such a mission. The success of this project can simply be measured by the fact that PM Modi spoke about Radhika’s work with AmbuRx on his radio program Mann Ki Baat as an inspiration for many.

Radhika, a food entrepreneur, runs a picturesque cafe- Cafe Diem in Coonoor famous for its continental food.

Please tell us something about yourself.

I was born and brought up in Dehradun in Uttarakhand. The hills are therefore very close to my heart and that’s where I always knew that home would be. 

A large part of my career was in the leisure space and my team and I pretty much started and spearheaded the growth of RCI for the South Asia region. RCI (Resorts Condominiums International) is the largest exchange company and does vacation swaps in over 100 countries in the shared ownership industry. 

I have held board positions with Mahindra Holidays and Mumbai Mantra and currently serve as a member of the board at Christel House India – a school for the poorest of the poor children from slums in Bangalore. We help them break the cycle of poverty by providing top-class education and close the loop till they finish college or a vocational course and find jobs. 

I moved to Coonoor in the Nilgiris after quitting my Corporate career and soon turned into a food entrepreneur. My venture is called CafĂ© Diem and without sounding pompous I have to say that it’s the most popular dining experience in the Nilgiris. We have won several accolades and our list of patrons includes the country’s top businessmen, corporates, lawyers, musicians and other influencers. 

Can you tell us more about the project AmbuRX.

The AmbuRx project was conceived by me to ease patient transport in the hills. 

Taking inspiration from a project of Rtn Tankha and  Baldeep Singh Maini of Jabalpur, it has been adapted to work in the hills. 

When I first saw the photos of the battery-operated auto ambulance, I was absolutely certain that a more robust and sturdy version was what was needed for our hill district. 

I spoke to a few auto-rickshaw drivers to check what would work best in the hills. I hired an auto and rode from Bandi Sholai all the way to Kaircombai (about 22 km) to check how well an auto would fare in the hilly roads. Finally, I opted for the 470 cc Diesel-powered auto-rickshaw and had it modified by Zarrar Khan of Pathan Steels in Jabalpur to enable patients from remote villages with narrow roads to have access to transport the sick as quickly as possible to the closest medical facility. 

What is an AmbuRx, what kind of medical facilities or equipment is available in this?

I brainstormed with my fellow citizens of Nilgiris to find the right name for this product with is an ambulance fabricated out of an auto-rickshaw. We come up with AmbuRicks and finally called it AmbuRx. 

The AmbuRx ( diesel 470cc) will serve well in the mountains and are economical as well as efficient to move patients that do not require cardiac care. They are fitted with a patient stretcher, attendant seating, an oxygen cylinder, drip hooks, a first aid box, a fan and are a swift mode to move patients. 

I mobilized funds within one week for the AmbuRx through my CafĂ© patrons and the entire project was funded by my clients snd me.  

What persuaded you to drive this project?

It is known to all that medical facilities in the Nilgiris are not the same as in larger towns and cities, and I strongly believed that any help that we can bring here will hugely benefit the community. 

Besides, traditional ambulances are difficult to maneuver on narrow hilly roads.

During the second wave, ambulances were all deployed for Covid patients. The non-covid patients who did not own transport could not get to a hospital as there was no public transport. Walking up the steep roads to reach the closest PHC was a Herculean task. I couldn’t sit back and watch their plight. From this desperate need emerged my intense desire to pursue the AmbuRx project. There were several naysayers, but I sidestepped them and took feedback from the well-meaning ones and pushed ahead. 

The entire project was completed in a record time of one month ( including transport from Jabalpur to Coonoor that took 5 days). 

Where are these AmbuRx deployed in the area now?

Six AmbuRx grace the Nilgiri hills today attached to various hospitals and organizations filling a hugely needed gap for patient transport. 

I continue to get several requests from more organizations and hospitals for this unique mode of patient transport. I am also receiving calls from other hill districts within and outside of the country on how to get an AmbuRx into their town or districts. 

What has been the most rewarding experience from this project?

I guess the entire experience from the conception of the project to delivery has been very exciting. But now that they are deployed, it is soul-satisfying. To see patients calling for them and specifically requesting for an AmbuRx because they stay in a tiny village or a place where a large ambulance cannot go to the doorstep is so gratifying. One AmbuRx is given to the Shola Trust in Gudalur. The elephant mahouts and others in the interiors of the forest and tribal areas will benefit from this. I was told that earlier patients were carried in a hammock to the point uptick where an ambulance could reach. 

The idea of putting the relationships I had nurtured with my CafĂ© clients to a greater cause was something that struck me. Therefore I utilized my lockdown time to enhance the medical infrastructure of Coonoor and the surrounding areas. 

I managed to get the first O2 generator plant for the district – – 500lpm, the six AmbuRx, several other critical care equipment, a spanking new Casualty Dept for the GH and will soon be bringing a 12-bed pediatric facility and a 5 bed ICU to the GH. This will benefit thousands of residents in the Nilgiris. There is no greater happiness in life than giving! 

Having said all of this, I have to admit that being acknowledged by the Prime Minister himself on National television on his Mann Ki Baat was a moment of surprise, pride and immense honor.