With yet another fire raging at the Deonar dumping ground, the thick haze of toxic smoke that has enveloped the Chembur-Govandi-Mankhurd belt is driving residents out of their homes and straight towards hospitals. 

The 25-bed paediatric ward at Shatabdi hospital is gearing up for an  increase in respiratory complaints among children living in the area
The 25-bed paediatric ward at Shatabdi hospital is gearing up for an  increase in respiratory complaints among children living in the area

Doctors said the next few days will likely witness a large number of citizens complaining about respiratory issues, and senior citizens and children under 14 will be most vulnerable.

The smoke from the dump yard has spread over quite a distance since Saturday, and is posing a range of health issues to residents. Local ragpickers and other workers living in Shivaji Nagar and Bainganwadi, in particular, confirmed that the smoke has forced them out of their houses.

90-year-old Shabina Khan who stays right opposite the dumping ground has been sleeping on the road outside her house for the past few days out of the fear of choking in sleep. “Our entire house fills with smoke and we dread it when the winds starts blowing in our direction. With the wind comes a thick cloud of smoke, making it almost impossible for us to breathe. All of us, including my son and his family, have been sleeping out on the road. We don’t want to choke in the smoke-filled home and die in our sleep,” she said.

Children remain the worst affected by the deadly smoke. Another local resident, Siraj Shah, said his three-year-old son Saif was diagnosed with tuberculosis shortly after the first fire broke out at Deonar a little over a month ago. “A week after the last fire breakout, my son started showing symptoms of TB. He was continually coughing and had high fever. After being treated at a local hospital for three days, he was shifted to Rajawadi Hospital and later to Sion Hospital, where the doctors eventually put him on the line one treatment of TB. These fires are a regular occurrence and his condition gets worse because of the smoke, but we have nowhere else to go,” said Shah, who runs an NGO for ragpickers.

Officials from Shatabdi Hospital confirmed that as of now, there is no increase in the number of patients, but their 25-bed paediatric unit is gearing up to attend to a possible influx of patients. “We are advising respiratory patients from the Deonar belt to take extra precautions. We have asked our resident doctors to keep a watch on the patients coming from Deonar,” said medical officer Dr Sanjaykumar Dolas.

What complicates matters is the fact that Shatabdi does not have a NICU. Because of this, even though Shatabdi is the largest BMC hospital in the vicinity, paediatric patients are forced to travel to Sion KEM or JJ hospitals.

“The hospital had given a proposal for the NICU but it hasn't moved forward. In an area marked by respiratory issues, a NICU is a must,” said a senior doctor.