1,000 from outside Mumbai stuck at Tata Memorial Hospital due to lockdownUpdated: Mar 30, 2020 21:57 IST
More than 1,000 cancer patients who had come to Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) for treatment, from various parts of the country, are now stranded due to the nationwide lockdown. Shelters across the city are overflowing and some patients have been reduced to living on the streets. With their immunity compromised by chemotherapy, cancer patients are vulnerable to Covid-19.
Pinky Sharma, 36, is a resident of Howrah, in West Bengal, and has been battling stomach cancer for the past four years. After oncologists in Kolkata referred him to TMH, Sharma landed in Mumbai on March 16 with his wife and two children aged 9 and 11. However, he arrived at TMH only to find chemotherapy service has been stopped on a temporary basis as all efforts are focused on treating and restricting the spread of Covid-19.
On March 24, a 21-day nationwide lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, halting all inter-state travel among other things. Maharashtra had already been in partial shutdown and sealed state borders.
For patients like Sharma, the lockdown is like a death knell. “This [treatment at TMH] was my last hope to recover. Now, not only is this shattered, but I can’t even go back home with my family. According to doctors, my immunity is very low which makes me more vulnerable to Covid-19,” he said.
For many patients, finding a place to stay in Mumbai is a challenge. “We have patients from all across the country who have got stuck in the lockdown,” said Prashant G Deshmukh, chief manager of the Sant Gadge Maharaj Dharamshala Trust, which runs a shelter in Dadar which has an official capacity of 650. Most patients are from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. “On a daily basis, we are getting over 60 queries from patients but now, as we are completely full, we can’t take anyone else,” said Deshmukh. At present, the trust’s shelter in Dadar is home to 700 cancer patients, along with their accompanying family members. Of these, 350 are waiting to return to their hometowns.
State health commissioner Anup Kumar Yadav said, “For severe cancer patients, they can procure an emergency pass to travel to other states. Also, we are trying to reach the patients with food and manage their shelter.”
However, health activists said travel is not feasible for cancer patients, with flight and train services having been halted. “It would be problematic to handle any emergency situation while travelling. At least here, hospitals are attending to emergency patients,” said Anita Peter, executive director, Cancer Patients Aids Association.
Meanwhile, lodges and dharamshalas are getting overcrowded and their management is struggling to tackle the situation. Nana Palkar Smruti Samiti is currently home to 70 cancer patients. “We aren’t letting the patients out of their rooms. We are trying to provide masks, gloves and hand sanitizers. But we have currently run out of soap and are looking for donors,” said Tukaram Mahadik, manager of the trust.
Approximately 100 people are living on the street alongside TMH and are surviving on biscuits and donated food. “These people have come from far off states and don’t even have relatives or known NGOs to contact. However, social workers are distributing food to them,” said Mahadik.
Manoj Pandey came to Mumbai on March 11 from Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, with his daughter Rani, who has breast cancer. She was undergoing the first cycle of chemotherapy, when TMH was forced to close down its non-emergency services as per instructions of the Union health ministry. “I had booked a patient shelter home in Byculla, but now that the treatment has been stopped, they asked us to vacate the room. Thankfully, a relative has agreed to put us up for two or three days, but I don’t know what I will do after that,” said Pandey.