Police unit has delivered over 120 babies in Bangkok traffic

Thai traffic police officer undergoes an emergency situation and baby delivery training course at Bangkok hospital.

As the sun rose over Bangkok on a weekday, 23-year-old Noppamas Phinsoongnern felt she was going into labour. She told her boyfriend Phongsatorn Kamsom, 20, and the two rushed out of their apartment in the heart of the city, hailing a taxi to take them to a hospital a few kilometres away.

But as the taxi reached the main road, they found traffic at a standstill, even though it was only 6am. More worryingly: the baby started coming out.

"I didn't know what to do," Phongsatorn said. "I was panicking. I called the emergency centre. They told me to calm down and that a doctor was on the way.''

At that moment veteran policeman Mana Jokoksung was directing morning rush-hour traffic in another part of town when his radio crackled and a voice came over, requesting his assistance.

He left his post and climbed onto his motorbike, flipped on the police sirens, and raced toward the stranded taxi.

Mana, who has been with the city police for 17 years, is part of the specially trained Traffic Police Unit, set up to handle precisely this type of traffic-related medical emergency.

The idea is to provide advanced medical training to police officers, who can generally reach an emergency scene the quickest. An ambulance with paramedics often follows, but the first response by motorbike police can make all the difference.

"If we need to, we'll drive on the sidewalks or in the opposite direction of traffic," Mana said. "We do what we can to get there in time."

Bangkok is a sprawling metropolis of more than eight million people, legendary for its unpredictable traffic jams that can turn a breezy 20-minute commute into a grinding hour-long crawl.

Officers in the special unit have helped deliver 121 babies, while escorting more than 2,600 pregnant women to the hospital.

The officers are only authorised to deliver a baby if the mother feels she cannot make it to the hospital in time.

On average, the officers deliver one or two babies a month, they said.

Reaching the taxi, Mana retrieved a sterilised mobile birthing kit out of his bike's top box, pulled on a pair of gloves and proceeded to bring a healthy boy into the world.

It was his 56th delivery, making him by far the senior midwife of the special unit.

"I felt relieved and secure when I saw the officer arrive," Phongsatorn said.

"I was worried the baby would be in danger. But I was puzzled when he started to handle the baby. I'd never seen anything like it before. "

A dozen Bangkok police have had emergency obstetrics training this year at a local hospital as part of the programme. Mana also helps teach regular refresher courses at the police station using lifelike newborn dolls.

The special unit was founded in 1993 with an Bt8-million donation from the Palace. Besides being trained in obstetrics, the officers also learn general emergency medical care, as well as how to conduct basic car and motorcycle repairs.

Newly trained officers are often nervous about the idea of delivering their first baby, but Mana said the feeling is only natural.

"The first few times, I could hardly pull on my gloves, I was shaking so hard," he said.

"It took me a long time to make a decision. I couldn't think straight with all the chaos around me.

"My heart throbbed like it was going to explode. After about my 5th time, it started to get easier."

At the site of most roadside births, crowds of onlookers tend to gather by the car, Mana said. Part of the officers' challenge is to keep people from getting too close, "so they don't violate the patient's rights to privacy".

People often cheer when they hear the baby crying, he said.

As for the young couple whose baby he delivered in June, their experience made such an impression that they gave him the nickname "Tax," short for "Taxi".

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