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Shivering under the open sky at AIIMS

Patna-resident Preeti Sinha (19) and her mother have been sleeping on the footpath for the last seven weeks. They aren't one of the hundreds of homeless people that we see on the city's roads.

delhi Updated: Jan 09, 2010 00:47 IST
Mallica Joshi

Patna-resident Preeti Sinha (19) and her mother have been sleeping on the footpath for the last seven weeks. They aren't one of the hundreds of homeless people that we see on the city's roads.

The teenager suffers from an extreme Calcium deficiency that has made her bones too weak to support her weight. But she can't get a bed at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), where all the wards are full.

“It gets very cold at night and we don't have adequate bedding to keep us warm. There are no beds available, so my mother and I have no option but to spend nights on the footpath,” said Sinha.

Sinha is among the scores of people — patients and their families — from different parts of the country who are forced to spend their nights outside one of the biggest hospitals in the country for want of beds.

AIIMS runs three dharamshalas (rest houses) — with over 500 beds that cost Rs 17 to Rs 275 a day — and they are always full.

The waiting period at some are at least a week.

“At present out waiting list has around 15 names on it but since most people are here for long-term treatment, it will take at least a week for a bed to be vacated,” said an official at the dharamshala, who did not wish to be named because he is not authorised to speak.

Kanpur-resident Umesh Chandra Dubey (25) has been waiting for a bed for eight days.

“All three dharamshalas are packed and we don't have money for a hotel, so my father and I have been living on the footpath since we arrived in Delhi,” he said.

Some patients have been living outside the hospital campus for many months now and move around with their cooking stoves.

“We have to cook ourselves as eating out is expensive,” said Vijay Mishra (40), who has lumbar infection and has been living outside AIIMS for two months.

“The security officers allow us to stay but don't let us light a fire at night,” added Mishra.

People living in neighbouring areas such as Yusuf Sarai let out rooms but charge as much as Rs 600 per day.

“The rooms are expensive and not very clean. The bathrooms have to be shared. Finding a decent place to stay is very difficult,” said Karishma Dutta from Assam, whose mother is admitted at AIIMS.

There’s little the hospital administration can do to make life easier for such patients and their relatives.

“We allow one attendant to stay in the ward with the

patient and also have dharamshalas, but with 8,000 OPD patients per day and 2,200 in-patients, we are heavily overburdened,” said Dr D.K. Sharma, medical superintendent, AIIMS.