Like hundreds of other families seeking cancer treatment but unable to afford accommodation in Mumbai, the infant's family too lived on the footpath outside the Tata Memorial Hospital
A 3-year-old girl, whose father is undergoing cancer treatment at Tata Memorial Hospital, died in the winter cold out on the footpath where her family had been living ever since her father’s cancer treatment began five months ago. The toddler’s tragic death points to a far older issue — hundreds of families visit Mumbai for cancer treatment at the specialty hospital in Parel but turn to the streets when they are unable to afford any accommodation.
Aslam Shah (35) and his family have been living at the footpath with just a tarpaulin sheet over their heads. The couple is seen here with one of their other children
The footpaths outside Tata hospital are lined with such pavement dwellers, comprising both patients and their many relatives. Among them was the Shah family; Aslam Shah (35) is originally from the Farukhabad district in Uttar Pradesh, but came to Mumbai five months ago for cancer treatment. He was followed by his wife and four children, and they all lived on the footpath outside the hospital.
This is a long known issue, and many efforts have been made to ensure low-cost accommodation for such families (see box). There are even some charitable institutions that offer nominally priced accommodation to patients, but Aslam could not even afford that. Even for their meals, the family was dependant on social workers who regularly come by to distribute food to patients and families. Like so many others, the Shahs had nothing but a tarpaulin sheet over their heads, which gave virtually no protection from the sun or the cold and wet in monsoon and winter.
But the Shah family’s trials were set to get far harder as their three-year-old daughter, Sonam, developed a high fever on Sunday. When the fever continued the next day, she was taken to KEM Hospital and given medicines, but it would all be in vain.
“Around 1 am on Monday night, Sonam woke up and asked for water. She drank it and fell back asleep, but soon after, she breathed her last,” said Shipteshah, Sonam’s grandfather. Around 3 am, the family checked on Sonam and found her unresponsive. They rushed her to KEM once again, where she was declared dead. The police was informed and Sonam’s funeral took place last morning.
The heartbroken family still has struggles ahead as Aslam continues to battle cancer.
He has already had two operations and is yet to have a third. He is also undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and has three other kids to look after.
Avinash Supe, dean, KEM hospital said, “The baby was declared dead on arrival at our hospital. Since it was a medico-legal case, we referred the matter to the police.”
'Shanties pose security threat'
In 2013, mid-day had reported that the local police had asked the BMC to raze the shanties along Tata Memorial Hospital, saying the illegal structures posed a threat to the medical facility. The Bhoiwada police said the shacks could expose the hospital and its patients to the threat of terror attacks.
The hospital has several times stated that it is unable to cope with the accommodation needs of the flood of patients and relatives arriving for treatment from outside Mumbai. Family members are generally accommodated at places such as Nana Palkarji Smuriti Hall at Parel, Ghadge Maharaj Dharamshala and Bandra Memorial Home in Bandra.
Efforts to help
>> In November, the state announced it would give the ownership of an SRA building in Mahul to TMH so more families can be accommodated there.
>> The building had originally been built to house those rendered homeless by the July 26, 2005 floods.
>> State health minister Dr Deepak Sawanthad said this would encourage patients to complete their treatment, as many quit midway due to the living cost in this city.
>> Nine months before the state’s annnouncement, the Mumbai Port Trust had also pledged to lease three old buildings to accommodate at least 120 cancer patients and their kin.