A LONDONER’s ENCOUNTER WITH POOR CANCER PATIENTS.

My second day in the beautiful city of Mumbai was quite an eye-opener.

As a first-time visitor I’d never imagined that I would get a  an opportunity to experience the difficult lives of cancer patients at Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital, Parel. 

Entering the HomiBhabha building, initially it seemed as if the hospital was indeed living up to my expectations.  It is known to be one of the top cancer-care facilities in the whole of India, and the clean, up-to- date and state-of- the-art infrastructure resembled it’s reputation indeed.

However, we soon realised that this was the luxurious department solely for those who could afford to pay for private hospital fees. Basically the elite who would gain access to the ‘deluxe’ rooms within the hospital, paying a bomb for it!

Walking past this area we gradually neared the Jubilee building. It was ironic to realize that the place was nothing like it’s name. It housed the majority of patients who received free/subsidised treatment and were from poor and unprivileged backgrounds.

My views of the hospital were changing with every step I took.The reality of the situation was shocking.

tata-memorial

Coming from London it was something I’d never experienced before in my life. Despite knowing from media coverage and from Adit, (the intern I was with) that the situation was bad, I had never imagined the magnanimity of it. In the scorching sun at around midday, as soon as we entered the courtyard we began to be exposed to the scale of the issue.

A couple from Patna approached me and mentioned that they were struggling to fill in forms which were needed in order for them to get a subsidized train ticket back home to Patna. Although I was able to understand what they were trying to say, my limited Hindi could not do them justice. Adit helped me converse with them and fill the forms for them.

From our short conversation, it was clear that there was a lack of support available for them to readily go if they needed help with regards to administrative procedures. As we talked to more and more patients, we found accommodation was increasingly a significant problem for most of them. It was disturbing to see people shriveled, sleeping on the neighboring streets and in the courtyard. 

tata patients

That sight has still not left my mind. Further reaching into the situation we found that often the reason behind this was that many of the NGOs and The Tata Memorial Hospital scheme only gives accommodation for a maximum of 4-6 weeks, after which regardless of how critical the cancer patient was, accommodation would be stopped.

In many cases, rather than helping this exacerbates the state of many of the patients who are prone to so many other diseases from their poor living conditions. Which only adds to the vicious cycle of deteriorating health.

The hospital housed  the same scene. Crowds of people lying on the floor trying to find any bit of space. Eventually I found that much of this was due to the substantial amount of huge amount of  paperwork and registration. Whilst the Tata Memorial website does mention that the registration process for subsidized/free can take up to an hour, from the patients and the size of the queues it was clear that this was a somewhat aspirational stat.

tata ques

We then spoke to a member of the NGO team from one of the three NGO desks that were set up on the first floor. It became apparent from the NGO Rep that the scale of the situation was indeed large and he mentioned how most of the struggles are related to the costs not just of the treatments which are often subsidized, but the costs of accommodation, food and the medicines for the recovery phase (not all of which is subsidized).

We tried to contact the Social Funds Department which was responsible for the allocating of funds to various patients, however the rigidity of the system and yet another sign of the immense bureaucracy involved meant we had to visit the medical superintendent to be given a letter of authority. Unfortunately she herself was not in and we struggled to get any sort of information from the hospital staff. As a matter of fact we are still awaiting a reply from the medical superintendent with regards to an authority letter.

I was pretty much able to feel the gravity of the the problem and the extent of suffering many of the cancer patients are forced to deal with.

Cancer is a painful disease, and these patients shouldn’t have to undergo such pain and suffering whilst tackling a life-threatening disease!

All signs pointed out the the one thing only: they need help, and they need it NOW!

Hemang Hirani.
Join us and support such cancer patients:  cancer.impactguru.com

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