At Delhi’s shelter homes, inmates complain of no medicine while doctors battle multiple threats
Nearly 110 doctors, all of whom are postgraduate students of the Delhi government’s Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) and have been posted to shelter homes, quarantine centres and government dispensaries across the city, say they have no medicines, infrastructure or even basic equipment to treat patients.
Delhi has 259 regular shelter homes for the homeless, of whom 112 are porta-cabins, 111 are inside buildings and 36 are tents. The government has also converted 256 school buildings into shelters for migrant workers. Each of these facilities can house between 300 and 600 persons.
“On Friday, a man living in a shelter home complained of severe pain in his lower abdomen. A few hours later, he started vomiting blood. Such a patient requires a hospital set-up for treatment and I did not even have the equipment needed to conduct his physical examination,” a doctor deployed at a shelter home in west Delhi, said requesting anonymity.
On Tuesday, a 50-year-old migrant worker died at a Delhi government-run temporary shelter home in Chabi Ganj, Mori Gate. Officials said that though the man had no signs of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), he was unwell. The lack of medical supplies at the shelter home had prompted him to seek treatment from the Aruna Asaf Ali hospital last weekend. He died a few days later.
Doctors said they only have basic treatment plans, which include medicines for fever, flu and stomach infections. In many places, they do not even have a thermometer or a blood pressure monitor.
There is no provision to attend to cases of hematemesis, probable fractures or mental health episodes, which are some of the most reported cases from these facilities.
According to 48-year-old Mohammad Tanveer, who is housed at a shelter home at central Delhi’s Aruna Asaf Ali Marg, he has had high fever for the past three days, along with bouts of vomiting. He alleged that the shelter did not even have a thermometer to check his temperature. All he was given was a paracetamol.
When there was no relief or help from the facility, Tanveer said he took a loan of ₹2,500 from his fellow inmates at the shelter and with their help got himself admitted to a private hospital nearby, that too after much pleading.
“I had almost lost consciousness, but there was no help at the shelter facility. I have been here for more than 20 days, but not a single doctor has visited. People have no means, proper food or even medical aid. If we die like this, how different will it be from dying of the virus?” Tanveer, who is a migrant labourer from Bihar’s Purnia, said.
Thirty-five-year-old Mugeri, who goes by his first name, also a daily wager housed at the same shelter, said that many people here have complained of breathlessness, fever and dehydration over the past few days but doctors have not been informed.
“Their condition cannot be helped by just some basic medicine. They need hospital-like care. A week ago, we called an ambulance. It took more than four-five hours to reach us and when it did, they refused to take the man saying it was not their case. We then had to call an NGO for help,” Mugeri said.
Sunil Kumar Aledia, a social activist working for the homeless and founder of the Centre for Holistic Development (CHD), said, “Medical teams are visiting only a few shelters. Besides erratic timings and meagre food portions, there is no arrangement to provide medical aid to occupants,” Aledia said.
He added that many inmates are patients of tuberculosis and HIV, and most are falling sick of the heat and improper nutrition. “The government must ensure proper medical aid for the large number of migrants and the homeless in shelters to save them from diseases and death.”
The doctors also expressed their trepidations. A doctor, who has been posted at one such shelter home in east Delhi, said several inmates have been showing signs of physical discomfort as well because of their history of substance abuse.
The doctor said that when they are not given proper medical attention, they often resort to violence and become a threat to others. He said two doctors are usually stationed at these centres during the day, and one doctor takes the night shift.
“The government needs to understand that we are working without proper gear. We do not get personal protective equipment (PPEs) to protect ourselves from possibly infected patients; neither do we get alternative accommodation nor do we get any transportation facilities. We have been thrown here in these facilities, where there is a grave risk of violence against us,” he said, requesting anonymity.
Another doctor posted to west Delhi said that medicos have been facing harassment—inmates have even tried to spit and urinate on them. She said that one of the homeless facilities in the area had to be shut down after a person staying there was found Covid-19 positive.
“We are working in such close proximity with people who could have the coronavirus disease, that too without any protection. Last week, when I was leaving after the end of my shift, a man from the shelter began to chase me and I had to run to save myself. The policemen stationed there did nothing to protect me,” she said.
The Resident Doctors’ Association of MAMC and associated hospitals, which represents four hospitals—including Lok Nayak Hospital (LNH), one of the biggest Covid-19-designated centres in the Capital—had written to the Delhi government on April 13 against the deployment of these 110 students in shelter homes, quarantine centres and dispensaries when they could be used to strengthen the workforce at Lok Nayak.
“This relocation of PGs clearly overburdens the vital manpower resources at LNH, which are already under excessive stress,” the letter written by the association read.
A senior Delhi government official said there is a clear-cut protocol in place that if anyone needs medical attention in such centres, they need to be shifted to a non-covid hospital in the area.
“Any hospital will take them and treat them. There is no point in making an issue of this. There is no shortage of medicines in any of the centres but you can’t expect to treat severe medical conditions there,” the official said on condition of anonymity.