Mumbai's sole 'cradle' hospital saves abandoned babies

Prabhadevi's Haji Mohammad Haji Sabu Siddiqui Maternity Hospital has saved hundreds of abandoned infants over the past 50 years through a systematic process. After a baby is placed in the cradle, an alarm automatically goes off through the home, and the wailing infant is immediately attended to. Eight infants were rescued in this manner in 2013

Mumbai is no stranger to infants being abandoned in the harshest of environments -- at dustbins, railway stations, by footpaths, overcrowded wards of public hospitals and so on. For some hospital staff, handling a day-old infant left behind by their parents has become a sad reality. While in a few cases the parents return to the hospital to claim him/her later, most abandoned babies face an uncertain future while some succumb to illnesses.

Abandoned babies saved
A sensor unit is installed near the cradle, which triggers the alarm exactly one minute after a baby has been kept on the bed

But in all this gloom and despair, there still are a few rays of sunshine -- a safe haven to save at least a few precious lives. One of them is Prabhadevi’s Haji Mohammad Haji Sabu Siddiqui Maternity hospital, the only one of its kind in Mumbai that has saved hundreds of abandoned infants over the last 50 years and more.

How? The small civic-run maternity hospital is the only other place in the city with a cradle installed right next to the entrance, which faces a busy street in the upscale south Mumbai neighbourhood. Locals refer to the 20-bed maternity home as palna or cradle -- a safe haven for abandoned children where the cradle, in fact, has been there since inception. Though the cradle, which hangs from chains attached to a canopy, has seen better days, it still continues to serve its purpose. On an average, the maternity home’s cradle sees at least seven to eight abandoned babies every year, said a doctor from the hospital. “In 2013, eight babies were left in the cradle.

Over the years, we have observed that more baby girls are abandoned. Last year, five baby girls and three boys were left in the cradle, mostly in the wee hours of the morning,” said the doctor, requesting anonymity. He further added that during Diwali holidays itself, three such babies were rescued and saved, the last of them on the day of Diwali. A female security guard and a nurse stay close to the cradle at all times, but hidden, so that the person about to abandon a baby does not have to face anyone. A minute or so after the baby is placed in the cradle, an alarm automatically goes off through the home, and the wailinginfant is immediately attended to and a medical check-up done.

A sensor unit is installed near the cradle, which triggers the alarm one minute after a baby has been put in it. The delay ensures there is little or no interaction between the hospital staff and the baby’s parents. “In most cases, the babies are healthy and they are not kept in the hospital for long. We notify police officials at Dadar police station who take the baby and follow the required steps to ensure the infant is taken care of and transferred to an orphanage,” added the doctor.

As the maternity home has only one operation theatre and three doctors manning the outpatient department and in house patients, abandoned infants who need further medical care are quickly shifted to KEM Hospital. But while it plays a brief role in these abandoned babies’ lives, it is the most vital, as it saves their lives. A police officer from Dadar police station told SUNDAY MiD DAY, “In the last few months, I have taken charge of three babies rescued at the hospital. The babies are shifted to Matunga’s Sharadhanand Ashram for a day after which we take them to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC).”

As each vulnerable baby is handed over from one institute to the other, CWC officials draft a remand application for the child and send him/her to one of the government run family service centers in the city. “Sometimes the parents change their mind and approach us asking for their baby. This is why we wait for three months for the kin to claim the baby, failing which, we transfer the abandoned baby to one of the 14 adoption centers in the city where they can be adopted after they turn one,” said a CWC official. Sadly, perhaps because most people who abandon their babies are illiterate or have little access to information, awareness about the Haji Mohammad Haji Sabu Siddiqui Maternity Hospital is minimal. Also, despite its success, no other civic hospital has launched a similar project yet.

While former dean of Sion hospital, Dr Suleman Merchant, had approached the BMC in January 2013 with a proposal to install a similar cradle next to the entrance of Sion Hospital, the proposal is gathering dust. “If parents leave the infant in the cradle, the risk of babies dying or being grievously injured is considerably reduced,” said Dr Merchant.

The proposal was passed after a three-day-old boy was found wrapped in a plastic bag in a local train’s compartment by commuters after which he was transferred to the civic hospital for treatment in January last year. But no cradle has been installed so far. Dr Arun Bamne, BMC’s executive health officer, remained unavailable for comment.



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