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March 2011
A LIFELINE IN THE HINTERLANDS The Lifeline Express is like no other train. Also called the Jeevan Rekha Express, this Hospital-on-the-Rails completes two decades of service in rural India this year.

Though the idea of providing medical assistance via a train to underserved populations in the hinterlands was floated in Nehru’s time, the infrastructure was not in place back then. Now, according to Impact Foundation—which maintains the service along with sponsors like the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation—India has a sprawling rail system comprising 70,000 kilometers of track, which support 11,000 routes and 7,000 sidings.

So how does it work?

The Lifeline Express has four retrofitted coaches. The first one functions as residential quarters for the staff, while the second coach is used for working/changing by medics and paramedics, and as a ward for patients. Operations and pre/post-ops are done in the next one. The last coach is used for diagnostic tests, lab work and training. Once an area is chosen, the Lifeline Express is parked at an accessible site for a month. The local population is usually informed well in advance, and all patients are prescreened at a clinic or hospital. Routine as well as major surgeries are performed on the Lifeline Express.

How well does it work?

Well enough that similar projects were started in China, Bangladesh, Cambodia and parts of Africa. In India so far, about 85,000 operations have been performed on the Lifeline Express and over 600,000 patients have received treatment.

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