It’s the beginning of May in the central Indian city of Gondia, and despite the crushing heat, it seems like the entire town has come to the train station. Doctors, nurses, journalists and politicians all gather under a tent to await a very unusual arrival: the Lifeline Express.
There are less than 10 doctors to 10,000 inhabitants in India, and many have to travel hundreds of miles to reach the nearest hospital. While the country’s pharmaceutical industry is now the largest supplier of generic medicines to the developed world, India lags seriously behind in matters of sanitation and public health. The hospitals that do exist in smaller cities like Gondia (population 176,000) often lack specialists and are unable to provide anything other than basic care for patients. Equipped with two fully-functioning operating rooms, the Lifeline Express represents an unthinkable hope for many Indians.
The Lifeline Express in Gondia.
I had met the train’s founder in Mumbai in April with another journalist. In her elegant apartment in the upscale neighborhood of Bandra, Zelma Lazarus had told us of the day she visited the Minister of Transport in 1990—without an appointment—to ask for help in implementing her idea of a train that would bring healthcare to the doorstep of the needy and remote.
Our evening with Lazarus had ended with a glass of whiskey and a request for us to come back and tell her about our experience documenting the Gondia mission. We embarked on the 15-hour train journey a few days later.