2010 Young Laureate, Science & Health
India, Born 1980
Struck down in a traffic accident in India, 17-year-old Shivam Bajpai lay on the busy road untended for more than 40 minutes before he died. His cousin, 27-year-old private equity manager Piyush Tewari, was horrified: “People literally watched him die,” he recalls. “Nobody came to his aid.”
A Tragic Pattern
But Shivam’s death was no rare occurrence. Every 4.5 minutes someone dies in a traffic accident somewhere in India: as vehicle numbers burgeon, the nation has become the world leader in road fatalities. Broken-hearted and angry, Tewari quietly resolved that his young relative’s death would not be in vain, and that he would do everything within his power to reduce the enormous toll of suffering and mortality. In February 2008, in spare time from his busy day job, he set up the SaveLife Foundation (SLF) to train police and bystanders to give emergency care to road victims in those first vital minutes before professional help arrives.
“Hundreds die each day across India as a result of public and police apathy,” explains Tewari. “Something had to be done. I talked to doctors, police, emergency services and my friends, and learnt about the chain of survival: the need for immediate access to skilled care as soon as possible after injury; the importance of involving bystanders; and delivering the correct emergency treatment in order to stabilize victims until they can be taken to hospital.”
In India, where traffic density has doubled in recent years with the economic surge, good emergency care is thin on the ground. Delhi, for example for example, has only 35 fully-equipped public ambulances for a population of nearly 16 million. Bystanders often feel helpless as there is little public knowledge of first aid. “Our goal is to equip first the police patrol officers — who are already on the road and respond to such incidents — and then local volunteers, such as shop-keepers, with basic life-saving skills required to support someone injured in a road accident,” Tewari says of the Savelife Foundation, which provides this training for free. “If you can apply these within minutes of an accident, the victim’s chances of survival are greatly improved. Our aim is to establish a community-driven chain of survival until India can develop and implement a national emergency services policy.”
Results and Rescues
In 18 months the SaveLife Foundation has trained over 2,000 Delhi Police officers in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), bleeding control, how to immobilize the neck and spine, deal with broken bones and transport the victim safely to the nearest trauma-care centre. The foundation’s first patients are already expressing gratitude for this service. “There was an elderly man who collapsed a few minutes after an accident,” says Tewari. “Fortunately the attending police were trained and administered CPR, which revived him, and now he’s back home. He sent a message to the Police Commissioner to thank him, in which he referred to the attending officers as ’his angels’. It gave the police a tremendous boost.”
In another case, an officer attending an accident managed to control heavy bleeding. A doctor later told Tewari that the victim would almost certainly have died without this essential first aid. In both these cases, on the foundation’s recommendation, attending police received rewards and commendations from their superiors. SaveLife training has also been introduced for all recruits at the Delhi Police Training College.
But, with more than 118,000 road deaths across India each year, the task is immense for a foundation run by Tewari and funded largely out of his salary and donations from a handful of supporters. His experience as a financial manager has at least equipped him to take a strategic, management approach to the challenge, tackling it one step at a time: “The first step was to train the police because they are usually the first officials to arrive on the scene and transport the victim to hospital. We have now made a good start on that. The next step is to establish local networks of trained volunteers who can also attend the scene of an accident and administer emergency aid until police or medical personnel arrive.” He adds: “We work in a highly collaborative model with various hospitals in Delhi, which helps us manage within the limited means that we have.” In 2011, Tewari plans to open a call centre staffed by full-time professionals who will rapidly locate first-aid providers close to the scene of an accident and arrange immediate assistance for victims.
The Road Ahead
His plans for the foundation go even further. Tewari’s second goal is to raise awareness across India of the appalling cost of road accidents and the need for much higher safety standards and improved driving. He will also campaign for a nationwide road safety policy that addresses all facets of the problem. In early discussions, the foundation has met with a positive response from the Delhi state government. Tewari attributes this to the strong support he is receiving from senior police officers, eminent doctors and respected medical institutions, as well as to the international recognition his selection as a Rolex Young Laureate has brought. “Rolex is a very well respected brand in India and the Award has helped to raise the foundation’s credibility greatly,” he says.
Starting in Delhi, SaveLife Foundation will extend its work across India. By April 2012, the foundation expects to have close to 10,000 registered and active volunteers spanning 11 police districts of Delhi. Tewari has already started the process of expanding into Uttar Pradesh and other states of India. The achievements of the SaveLife Foundation are also set to transcend national borders: Tewari is providing advice to a Nigerian group keen to establish a parallel organization to address that country’s severe road safety problems. “The foundation was initially set up by me, but the reason for its rapid growth and success so far is the professional way it is run by my wonderful team,” Tewari explains.
In this way, through the vision and resolve of Piyush Tewari to commemorate his young cousin Shivam Bajpai, young busy professionals are being shown the way to combine altruism and a successful career in 21st-century India. “One of my personal goals in pursuing the development of SLF is to demonstrate that young professionals, working full-time jobs, can still make valuable contributions to their communities,” he says. “I consider it vital that we develop among young professionals the culture of volunteerism and public service that our country so urgently requires.”
Published in 2010