While three-year-old Neelu Birhor seems healthy to many onlookers, she desperately needs to start treatment for blood cancer — yet she's waiting for medical attention on a sidewalk in New Delhi, according to the Guardian.
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, or AIIMS, runs a shelter for patients like Birhor, but with about 8,000 visitors each day, the hospital is overcrowded. Many patients are poor and can’t afford to rent a room, and must instead wait for treatment in tents, subways, public restroom floors, shelters, and, in Bihror's case, sidewalks, the Guardian reports.
The toddler has been sleeping on the pavement in a makeshift bed awaiting cancer treatment.
Millions of Indian patients are unable to access specialty hospitals and are referred to AIIMs in New Delhi, which is inundated with patients on a daily basis.
Families like Neelu’s often trek long distances, taking leave from their jobs.
“We’re spending without earning,” Neelu’s mother, Chunni Birhor, told the Guardian. “Every day is a day’s wages lost.”
The institute offers free consultations, but patients still must pay for drugs and some tests.
“Every day we’re sent here and there, from one doctor to another,” Alam Ansari whose twin daughters were born prematurely and have an unknown illness, told the Guardian. Ansari has used his body heat to keep his children warm while waiting together in a tent outside the hospital. “I don’t know what to do when my money runs out, but I have to get my daughters well.”
Some patients wait months to begin treatment, the Guardian reports.
AIIMS has had issues with overcrowding in the past, facing as many as 10,000 patients per day in 2015.
“Many patients are turned away or given long dates because beds and radiation machines are booked. Since the poor can’t afford treatment elsewhere, they die waiting,” an anonymous medical store supervisor told the Hindustan Times during AIIMS’ previous incident.
India has made great strides in reducing poverty. By cutting its extreme poverty rate in half between 2006 and 2016, the country no longer has the largest amount of people living in extreme poverty.
Even still, 364 million people in India still live in poverty, and about 1 in 4 multidimensionally poor people in India are under 10 years old. These children lack access to clean water, food, sanitation resources, and health care, according to the Deutsche Welle.
India’s government is working toward making health care more accessible to its communities. In 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced “Modicare,” a proposal that would cover hospital costs of up to $7,800 for 100 million poor and underprivileged families, CNN reports. This is 15 times the amount citizens can currently claim from the government in India.
Modicare, which was launched in September, also shows that India is likely shifting toward a universal health care system in the future. With health care becoming more affordable, it may slowly become more accessible for impoverished communities.