The Edhi Ambulance: first responders in Pakistan (photo essay)

niqab_115.jpg Two women wearing niqab pass through a broken street. 115 is the number to call an Edhi ambulance. The number is imprinted over all Edhi paraphernalia.

I wanted to share some notes on what we (Omar Mullick and I) have been doing in Karachi. Abdul Sattar Edhi, the main subject of our film, is primarily known for his ambulance service in Pakistan. He started out with a small blue van in the 1950's called the "Poor Man's Van" and went around Karachi transporting the dead and sick to their fated destinations. Little did he—or anyone in Pakistan—know that he was the first and only ambulance in the entire country. To this day, Edhi is at the forefront of providing first response care to Pakistanis while the local city and provincial governments lag far behind.

The ambulance service is the largest and most well known program the Edhi Foundation provides. There are about 30 check posts around Karachi that have at least three ambulances for dispatching around their designated area.

It's important to note that these ambulance drivers aren't paramedics. They are only required to have a driver's license and be able to read and write in Urdu. Many of them don't know CPR and are taken only through a very basic training before becoming a driver. The main job of an Edhi ambulance driver is to transport patient X from point A to point B. The lack of qualifications is a little frightening since there of road side accidents and shooting casualties an ambulance picks up in a day.

I remember feeling a little uneasy watching a live stream of a terrorist attack in progress because the police were nowhere in sight. A minute later I heard sirens and saw an Edhi ambulance pull up. The driver exited his van and ran off camera with a stretcher. The police showed up ten minutes later. The importance of the Edhi ambulance in Pakistan goes without saying.

The photos in this blog post were taken during our time with the Edhi ambulance drivers and dispatchers in Korangi Town.

asad_head.jpg Asad, an Edhi ambulance driver, sticks his head out during a sweltering day in Lala-abad. Most ambulances don't have an A/C unit. The Edhi Foundation has to keep costs down to maintain their affordable RS 100 ($1.20 USD) fee for transport.

asad.jpg Asad waits for a patient in the back of his van. The back contains only a stretcher and an oxygen tank.

korangi_smiles.jpg An ambulance driver rests on a table at the Korangi dispatching center. The Edhi driver's shift is 24 hours. Drivers take many breaks throughout the shift. They work every other day, 15 days a month.

korangi_crotch.jpg Mahmood, an ambulance dispatcher, talks to a friend on the phone during a blackout. The Korangi center loses electricity about five times a day. During some night shifts, the electricity doesn't come back till the morning. A small generator powers the phones and a tiny bulb -- just enough to keep the work day moving.

police.jpg Two police officers ride on a bike. In Karachi, it is illegal to have a passenger on your motorcycle (except for women, children and the elderly). Clearly, those who enforce the law aren't around to follow it.

Notes on the Edhi Ambulance


  1. Having passengers (adult, male) on motorcycles is not allowed in order to prevent motorcycle “hit squads” in which the passenger would shoot and then be able to make a quick escape through the congested traffic. This became very common at times. In many countries where private ownership of guns is illegal, but cops carry them; should we criticize that as well?

    1. I used a Nikon F3 with a 50mm 1.8 lens. I picked it up from the electronics market in Saddar for cheap.

    1. The pictures are black and white because they were shot on black and white film, Kodak TX400.

      1. **The pictures are black and white because they were shot on black and white film**

        Yes yes… I can see they are on black and white film (dramatic grainy quality)… but WHY?

        I would’ve just used my phone camera and got better quality pics…

        Anyway, nice of you to highlight this stuff.

  2. The most important thing an ambulance can do is scoop and run you to the hospital or surgery. The only thing worth dallying is a cardiac arrest where a paramedic team can give the same level of care as an ER.

    1. You don’t know what you’re talking about.
      So giving D50% to a hypoglycemic diabetic is not useful? Giving a benzodiazapine to a seizing patient is not useful? Giving epinephrine and benadryl to a patient in anaphylactic shock is not useful? Giving adenocard or cardizem (to a patient or cardioverting) a patient with a life-threatening tachycardia isn’t useful? Pacing a patient or giving atropine to a patient with a life-threatening bradycardia isn’t useful? Giving beta-blockers to someone who is having a hypertensive crisis isn’t useful? Decompressing a tension pneumothorax isn’t useful? I could go on all day.

  3. The ambulance in Cairo that carted us off to the quarantine camp was an old van filled with rubble and driven by an ancient, toothless man in a galabiya baladi. This looks like Star Trek medicine compared to that.

  4. Hey Bassam Tariq & Omar Malick Woww Both Great Guys and Really Working Very very Good and Great …. i know Bassam you missing your Mom and Daddy….. Omar too missing very much his Family b coz both very long time live in Karachi and Working … my Wishe’s and Pray With you Bassam and Omar … i hope you successful INSHA ALLAH.
    <|_|_| | Bless you Dear Friends

Comments are closed.