Innovation Blog

Lifeline Express:  400,000 Lives Changed in India –  Should America Follow Suit

By Shlomo Maital

Nov. 24/2009

   How can one bring medical care to remote villages in India?  Often, children and adults in India have medical problems that can be cured easily with surgery or other care, things like cleft palate or cataracts — but suffer with them for their entire lives, because they cannot afford medical care in the cities, or even get to the cities, where hospitals and clinics exist.

      India’s rail network is one of the largest in the world.  It transports 18 million passengers yearly, has 1.4 million employees and has a route covering nearly 40,000 miles. 

       In 1991,  Indian Railways and the Indian Health Ministry joined forces to provide a simple solution to providing basic medical care for remote poor villagers.   They called it Lifeline Express, or Jeevan Rekha Express.   Equip a train with modern medical equipment and operating theatres.  Staff it with volunteer doctors and surgeons.  Run the train through the length and breadth of India, to more than 7,000 stations.  Inform the villagers in advance,  examine them quickly and choose those best suited for the Lifeline Express care.    The project is supported by Impact UK (a charitable foundation), Indian businesses and individuals.  Some 400,000 Indians have benefitted so far.   A second train has now been added. 


Lifeline Express focuses on:

* Orthopaedic and surgical intervention for correction of handicap and restoration of movement, especially those as a result of polio.

* Opthalmological procedures and interventions, eg cataract surgery and intraocular lenses.

* Audiometry and surgical interventions for restoration of hearing.

* Surgical correction of Cleft palate.

    Other countries, such as China, have begun imitating Lifeline Express.  But why, I wonder, should Lifeline Express be implemented only in poor countries?  Why not in America?

    United States has some 48 million persons without health insurance.  What about an American Lifeline Express, travelling to remote areas and cities alike, bringing badly-needed medical care to those who cannot afford it because they are uninsured?    America, like India, has a rail system and a large number of people who need medical care but cannot afford it.  Indian found a partial solution.  Why should not America imitate it?  Funding should come from the pharmaceutical companies, whose obscene prices for lifesaving drugs generate many billions of dollars in profits.