For the past six months, 18-month-old Monica has been sleeping in a makeshift cloth cradle on a footpath outside the Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) in Parel. Her mother, Kavita Bhoi (20) covers Monica's protruding belly inside which, lies a liver infected by cancer.
Waiting for a date for Monica's surgery, this is the only accommodation her father, Ramesh (24), a construction worker from Dhuliya, can provide. The couple share the pavement with other out-station patients and their families.
From Saturday, some of these patients can hope for better accommodation.
St Jude India Childcare Centre, an NGO that provides shelter to families of children who come to Mumbai for cancer treatment, is opening four centres at Kharghar in Navi Mumbai where TMH has its Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer campus.
"After gruelling sessions of chemotherapy, children need a warm bed, nutritious food, clean water and rest. Instead, they get the cold pavement, roadside food and dirty water. While we can't change that for every child in Mumbai yet, we try our best to reach out to as many as possible," said Aditya Mangaldas, president of the NGO.
The NGO will provide families with a room equipped with a bed and cupboard for free for the duration of the treatment. But even with four new centres and the three existing ones in Parel, the NGO will be able to house only 79 families at a time. TMH doctors refer patients to the centre. The centres will provide transport to ferry patients to the Parel hospital.
"We organise art, dance and yoga sessions and have a psychotherapist to help families deal with the stress of seeing their child suffer. We know how important it is to prevent these people from developing mental scars," said Bhavisha Sanadhya, manager of the organisation.
The new centres will have five rooms meant exclusively for children recovering from bone marrow transplants. These patients need to be isolated as they are vulnerable to infections. The organisation has sheltered 156 children and their families since it began in 2006, of which 125 made a complete recovery.