Narmada Samagra’s River Ambulance

Partnership objectives

This partnership aims at delivering primary healthcare to the most remote settlements across the 200km stretch of river Narmada located in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India, which has no access to health solutions as a result of hilly terrain and intricate water ways. 

The River Ambulance helps expand access to health services and solutions to under-served tribal and local populations along the Narmada River. The River Ambulance helps expand access to health services and solutions to under-served tribal and local populations along the Narmada River. Copyright Merck

What are the health needs and challenges?

Communities living along the periphery of river Narmada have limited access to roadways, electricity, health centres and primary education. In fact these villages, located in deep jungles, are accessible only by river. Due to remote access, the native residents of the area have been deprived of basic health care and other medical services leading to major ailments and loss of human life.

Furthermore, these villages face constant threat of water pollution due to urbanization, industrialization, agricultural run-off and improper agricultural and social religious practices. The waters of River Narmada represent the only source of drinking water for the communities settled along them. Due to consumption of this water, which is often contaminated, the population is at risk to water borne diseases of infectious or chemical nature which can also be fatal. Thus, it is necessary to increase awareness about the ‘usability’ of the water from the Narmada river on a regular basis.

Description of partnership activities and how they address needs and challenges

The river ambulance aims to reach underserved communities living along the river Narmada and to deliver them primary healthcare. This project was launched by Narmada Samagra (an Indian NGO) in 2007 in Madhya Pradesh, India to reduce the pollution of the Narmada river banks and waters as well as to protect the health of tribes and communities settled around the banks.

The river ambulance can travel in 2-3 feet deep water the health services reach the door steps of people living in these remote areas. These ambulances are equipped with telephone connections that can be used as a helpline and can raft at a speed of 30 kms/hr in case of emergencies. Each ambulance contains: a bed for ferrying patients to nearest hospital in emergency, primary surgical tools, safety equipments (floating jackets, air tube etc), refrigerator for keeping injections and medicines, oxygen cylinder for emergency patients, medical kit with stethoscope, medicines and register for patient entry, test kits for heart related tests and different pathology tests like blood group, haemoglobin, sugar, pregnancy, malaria etc and solar cell panel for power requirement.

Merck is supporting and scaling-up Narmada Samagra river ambulance program through financial operational support, additional boat donation and provision of volunteer doctors to ensure that more patients will be reached. Merck has initiated daily testing of pollution levels of the River by deploying 55 dedicated personnel for the same along 100 banks. The Merck Millipore water testing kits are used for this purpose.

The initiative is part of Merck’s efforts around accessibility which focus on strengthening supply chain and develop localized health solutions to deliver and reach out efficiently at the point of care, thereby providing health workers, communities and patients with consistent access to health solutions, irrespective of their geographical location.

Merck’s support to the NGO Narmada Samagara contributes to the stability of the River Ambulance project whose functioning is dependent on donations and a regular supply of medicines and products. The River Ambulance helps expand access to health services and solutions to under-served tribal and local populations along the Narmada River, who are often exploited by local primary health centers and city doctors demanding steep fees. The program is scaling-up with the addition of one boat donated by Merck who will provide volunteer doctors and support operational expenses to help reach more patients along the river. Merck has also initiated daily testing of pollution levels of the River Narmada, a new activity as part of this project. This will allow for daily testing of river water by trained local community members using water testing kits as a way of informing local populations about the pollution levels of the river, aiding in preventative healthcare.

This initiative currently benefits over 40 villages on the banks of the Narmada River, providing locals with access to healthcare and solutions. The service runs five days a week attending to around 40-50 people each day, covering 200km along the banks of the river. Since 2014, the program has reached out to  more than 12,000 people.

In 2016, Merck donated a new boat to the initiative, a boat that can carry more materials and staff, and it can also transport more emergency cases.

In the month of April 2014, 55 personnel were trained for using the Water test kits by a certified technician in Bhopal and started water testing on the banks in May 2014.

Partnership information

Company(ies) Merck

Partner(s) Narmada Samagra

Type of Partner(s) NGOs

Therapeutic Focus Other, Infectious Diseases, Non-Communicable Diseases, Women and Children's Health

Disease(s) Cardiovascular Diseases, Family Planning, Sexual & Reproductive Health, General Health, Hematology Disorders, Malaria, Women's Health

Program Type(s) Availability of Treatment - Financial Support, Availability of Treatment - Product Donations, Health System Infrastructure - Development of Physical Infrastructure, Health System Infrastructure - Outreach & Medical Services, Prevention Programs - Awareness & Outreach

Targeted Population(s) Marginalised / Indigenous People, Patients in needs of treatment, People with low income

Region(s) South Asia

Number of Countries 1

Country(ies) India

Start Date 1920

More information Merck Serono

Anticipated completion date Ongoing