Mumbai: Leprosy hospital makes patients work as doctors

With the only ward boy in Acworth municipal hospital in Wadala keeping his distance and doctors not paying enough attention, three patients dress the wounds of nearly a 100 others; one patient is set to lose his hand due to lack of proper treatment

Abandoned by society and even their own families, leprosy patients have been landing up at the sole specialised leprosy centre in the city the BMC-run Acworth Municipal Hospital for Leprosy in Wadala only to find that no one in charge cares about them there either.

A patient at the hospital changes the bandage of a fellow sufferer
A patient at the hospital changes the bandage of a fellow sufferer

Left to their own devices, and with only each other to lean on, the patients are forced to not only wash the floors of the hospital and do other petty chores, but also play doctor and change the bandages and dress the wounds of their fellow inmates.

Natha K’s left hand will be amputated at KEM Hospital to stop the infection from spreading and poisoning his body
Natha K’s left hand will be amputated at KEM Hospital to stop the infection from spreading and poisoning his body

And, while this practice has allegedly been going on for decades, it is now set to cost one of the patients his hand, because none of the doctors allegedly bothered to tend to a gangrenous wound even when it became so severe that the bone was visible.

While the amputation is set to happen at KEM Hospital on Friday, patients say it could have been avoided had a doctor, or at least a professional dresser, been available to attend to the wound rather than allowing it to fester.

Salt in the wound
mid-day had reported (‘Shunned by their families, they celebrate life together’, December 30, 2014) how many of the hospital’s inmates had been left there by their families decades ago, who never even bothered to visit ever again, and had been depending on the kindness of a benefactor to inject some semblance of joy in their lives at least once a year.

Now, it turns out, the stigma attached to the disease has kept even doctors and professional dressers away from the hospital. “We have published advertisements time and again, but we don’t get a favourable response.

There is certainly some social stigma attached to the disease that stops people from applying,” said Avinash Khade, resident medical officer (RMO), Acworth Municipal Hospital for Leprosy.

Even the employees, who have been working with the hospital for years, confirmed that very few doctors, nurses and ward boys wish to work at the hospital. “Many who join feel uncomfortable around the patients and ask for transfers.

That’s the reason we have only 3-4 doctors and just one ward boy, who also leave at 3 30 pm,” said a hospital employee. Ward boys and nurses are meant to change bandages and dress the patients’ wounds, and with even the sole ward boy refusing to do so, the responsibility has fallen on the patients themselves.

Three patients of the hospital sit in the outpatient department (OPD) ward and bandage and dress the wounds of both the in-house and visiting patients in two shifts.

The OPD functions till 3.30 pm and the dressers work in two shifts 9 am to 11.30 am and 1.30 pm to 3.30pm and see more than 100 patients between them. The hospital has 92 in-house patients.

This process, which is being followed since decades, has almost become a tradition and is passed on from one generation of patients to another. The office staff and the rest of the doctors at the hospital allegedly leave at 3.30 pm, leaving the patients under the supervision of security guards.

No training
When mid-day spoke to one of the three patients doing the dressing, he said he had been doing so for more than four years. He said he had learned on the job and hadn’t received any professional training.

“We have been doing this for a very long time and a female dresser has been doing this the past 20 years. And it’s not just dressing; we the do rest of the work at the hospital as well including washing floors and other cleaning activities.”

Victim of negligence?
One of the patients of the hospital is currently in KEM Hospital in Parel, because a wound on his left hand caused gangrene. The doctors at KEM confirmed that Natha K could probably face severe complications if the hand isn’t amputated, since the gangrene might end up poisoning his body.

While the doctors at Acworth claim that they immediately put Natha on antibiotics and tried to contain the infection, sources said that his hand could’ve been saved had his wound been attended to frequently under professional supervision.

“His wound kept getting worse and a time came when the bone in his wrist became visible. Ultimately, we got to know that his hand had to be amputated. Had the doctors realised this earlier, or if we had professional dressers to attend to his wound, we could’ve saved his hand,” said a fellow patient, on condition of anonymity. Natha’s amputation is scheduled for Friday.

Mum’s the word

Dr Suhasini Nagda, BMC Medical Director
She was unable to speak due to a “bad throat.” She did not respond to messages either.

Sanjay Deshmukh, Additional Municipal Commissioner (Health)
Did not respond to several calls and messages.

Madmaja Keskar, Executive Health Officer
Also did not respond to any calls or messages.

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