Every one took note when Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal slept on the street for a night during his unprecedented protest against the police earlier this week. What, however, has gone unnoticed is that thousands of other lesser mortals are forced to sleep rough in the open in the Indian capital.
Meet the poor patients and their family members seeking medical treatment at India’s premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital (AIMS).
The treatment offered at the hospital is world-class and cheap. Run by the government, it boasts of the best doctors and the state-of-the art treatment.
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But the rush at the hospital from every nook and corner of the country with a population of more than a billion people is immense and the waiting period for securing a doctor’s appointment is excruciatingly long. Media reports suggest patients needing an immediate surgery for the removal of a tumor are at times asked to come back six years later.
The inordinate delay means that hundreds of patients and their relatives from outside the city camp out in the open – through the oppressive heat of summer and the icy chill of winter months - in the vicinity of the hospital, awaiting their turn for a doctor’s appointment.
Though not exactly homeless, a majority of them are poor and cannot afford a hotel. Nor do they have friends who could provide them a shelter in a city where they are strangers.
They therefore turn every available space – from toilets to disused buses – into a home as they wait for medical care.
AIMS runs a night shelter for the benefit of outstation patients. But it is grossly inadequate, considering the rush at the hospital. AIMS is known to treat 1.5 million outpatients and 80,000 inpatients annually.
Already ailing, the patients suffer more on the streets of New Delhi. Ironically, their plight has found little play in the media, engrossed in the coverage of a high-profile sit-in demonstration.