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Medical 'limousine' service in Dubai from April

By Majorie van Leijen

It is not an ambulance or a taxi. Yet it is a non-emergency medical transportation vehicle. Awnak service, as it is called in Dubai, will be introduced in April.

Ten Awnak vehicles will be launched in April, which will help transport those who are not comfortable to transport themselves for medical reasons, but who do not necessarily need an ambulance.

There are four categories of people who would benefit from the service, explained Mattar Al Tayer, Chairman of the Road and Transport Authority (RTA), which will be responsible for the launch of the project.

“There are the patients who have undergone operations in hospitals and need to have further rest at home, patients who have been examined by doctors and ordered to be admitted for further treatment, in-patients who have to be transferred to other hospitals based on doctor’s recommendation, patients who need to move from homes to hospitals/clinics to see a doctor or vice versa.”

In addition, the service is specially catered for the elderly and the disabled, who may not always be able to make their way home without assistance.

The Awnak vehicles are more than just regular taxis. They can be categorised as a limousine service, explained Youssef Al Ali, CEO of the Public Transportation Agency (PTA) at RTA.

Each vehicle will be equipped with certain facilities; for example, the vehicle must be tailor-made to move disabled people as per the requirements, and passengers should be able to lie down of needed.

The driver will be handpicked, and trained up to Level 3 of delivering services to non-emergency cases. In order to set the conditions for each vehicle, the RTA coordinated with the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and Unified Ambulance Services.

The Awnak vehicle is not for any passenger to book or flag down, as a regular taxi service functions. “It is a service that will be made available by the medical facility involved,” explained Al Ali.

Which medical facilities will be providing the service has not been determined, but it will be upon the facilities and the service provider. “It is really a service supporting the hospitals. There is a discussion ongoing that the service could be included in health insurance policies,” said Al Ali.

“The fare of the Awnak service will be 30 per cent higher than the fare of a regular taxi,” he added.

The initiative is part of the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, aimed to improve the services and means of decent living for people with special needs and the elderly.

The service is considered the first-of-its-kind in the region and third worldwide after the UK and Ireland, where vehicles deployed combine dual features of ambulance vehicles and taxicabs.