With just a patchwork of colorful plastic sheets to shield patients from the heavy monsoon rains, a Mumbai street acts as an unofficial ward to one of India’s top cancer treatment centers.
Every year, the Tata Memorial Hospital draws tens of thousands of cancer sufferers thanks to its heavily subsidized medical care. However, the city’s steep hotel and rental prices force scores to sleep on nearby pavements.
“There’s rats, mosquitoes and dirt,” said farmer Suresh Patidar, who stays with his wife Leela, 55, as she undergoes treatment for breast cancer.
“We tried to settle on the other side of the street but the police didn’t allow it,” he said.
“A hotel is very costly. It’s impossible,” he added.
With their home in the central state of Madhya Pradesh at least 12 hours away by train, the Patidars’ cheapest option has been to sleep on the roadside for the past month, despite the regular torrential downpours.
The bandages and surgical masks worn by others on the street betray their common suffering.
The Tata center offers some free or cheap rooms around the city to poor outpatients, and more are being added, but numbers are difficult to manage as Indian cancer cases increase.
“There will always be more people,” hospital spokesman SH Jafri said. “Many NGOs give them food and things on the footpath, so because of that they tend to stay there.”
The pavements have offered such patients and their families a temporary home for years, but there are signs that local residents are growing impatient over their sick neighbors.
At the nearby police station, Senior Inspector Sunil Tondwalkar said he had written to Mumbai’s municipal authorities asking them to move the sick street-dwellers to more suitable lodgings.
Locals have complained they are blocking the pathways, and that “they’re eating and going to the toilet on the footpath and the streets. It’s not hygienic,” Tondwalkar said.
He also wants the streets cleared because he says hospitals can be a “soft target for terrorists,” while “anti-social elements,” such as thieves or beggars, can infiltrate the patients.
Despite their uncomfortable lodgings, the families for now have little alternative.
Few Indian hospitals offer the range of cancer care and cheap costs of the Tata center, where 60 percent of about 50,000 yearly patients are subsidized and 14 percent are treated for free, according to Jafri.
Those on the street said they were contributing to their medical costs, and had sold their land or livestock to help fund their treatment.
“People living on the streets are people who earn daily, eat daily, so they aren’t people with long-term savings,” said HK Savla, founder of the Jeevan Jyot Cancer Relief and Care Trust.
His charity feeds 600 patients and their families in Mumbai twice a day, and he said 150 to 200 people were usually camped outside the Tata hospital.
“They have to save whatever they have to manage their treatment,” he said.
A hotel is an extra cost that could be more effectively spent.
Now a government-run center, the Tata hospital began life in 1941 as a philanthropic venture by the industrialist Tata family after a relative died of cancer, despite going to Britain for expensive treatment.
“They said, what about the poor patients in India? So they started this,” Jafri said.
The need for such services is only set to grow in the huge nation, where more than half a million people died of cancer in 2010, according to a study published in The Lancet medical journal last year.
Pankaj Chaturvedi, a professor and a head and neck surgeon at the Tata hospital, said cancer is a rising blight as Indian society becomes more affluent.
While breast and cervical cancers are the most common among women, lung and mouth cancers are the biggest killers for men owing to the widespread use of tobacco — especially chewing tobacco — across the country.
“Increasing tobacco and alcohol use, unsafe food and lack of exercise — these are the four factors that lead to an increase in non-communicable diseases, of which cancer is a top one,” he said.
On top of these factors, improvements in medical science mean people are living longer, and “the longer you live, the higher the chance of cancer.”
However, for some, it still strikes early.
Ponmuth Rajaram Haridas, 22, has been camping outside the Tata center for four months with his parents while he is treated for blood cancer, having sold off all the sheep on their farm and taken out a loan.
On doctors’ orders that he eats home-cooked food, his small and spritely mother makes him simple meals of rice, dahl and vegetables on a tiny stove in a corner of their makeshift tent.
Speaking through a surgical mask to keep out the germs, he said he hopes to return to their village in another couple of months after he finishes two more sessions of chemotherapy.
“I can’t get to sleep here. The atmosphere is much better at home,” he said.
The onset of summer has sparked a rise in incidents of “mask rage” in South Korea as more hot and bothered commuters either refuse to wear face coverings or leave parts of their faces exposed. In South Korea, Japan and other countries in East Asia, widespread mask wearing has been cited as one possible explanation for the region’s relative success in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control. South Korea, one of the first countries outside China to be affected by the virus, flattened the coronavirus curve in April, although it is now struggling with dozens of daily cases, mainly in and around
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
PLAYING THE VICTIM? A Chinese spokesman sent a statement to Australian media saying that Beijing had ‘irrefutable’ evidence of Canberra’s widescale espionage Australia yesterday unveiled the “largest-ever” boost in cybersecurity spending, days after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke out about a wave of state-sponsored attacks suspected to have been carried out by China. Morrison and government officials said the country would spend an additional A$1.35 billion (US$928 million) on cybersecurity, about a 10 percent hike, taking the budget for the next decade to A$15 billion. The largest chunk of the new money would help create 500 jobs within the Australian Signals Directorate, the government’s communications intelligence agency. Morrison on June 19 said that a “state-based actor” was targeting a host of
The Philippine army chief yesterday expressed outrage over the fatal police shooting of four soldiers, including two officers, and demanded justice, as both sides provided contrasting accounts of the killings. Philippine Secretary of the Interior and Local Government Eduardo Ano, a retired military chief of staff who now oversees the national police, ordered that the police involved in Monday’s violence in Jolo in Sulu Province be disarmed and restricted for investigation. Police said the soldiers were killed in a “misencounter” with a group of police officers. The army said that the two officers and two enlisted men were on a mission against