At the start of winter, Dr Vinod Rastogi heads out of his home in West Delhi’s Uttam Nagar to board the Delhi Metro on blue line at 6 pm every Tuesday and Thursday with a backpack stuffed with medicines and a stethoscope around his neck.
VIPIN KUMAR/HT PHOTOn A doctor checks patients at a night shelter near Gurdwara Bangla Sahib.He changes over to yellow line to reach Patel Chowk or New Delhi station at around 7pm to offer free health checkups to the homeless living in a few of Delhi government’s 259 night shelters.
He carries a backpack full of paracetamol for fever, diclofenac for pain, calcium supplements, cough syrup, antiseptic and fungal ointments, among others.
The ailments affecting people haven’t changed, what has are the facilities offered to the rotating team of doctors treating the homeless between 7 and 11pm from November to March under Delhi’s Mobile Health Scheme over close to 10 years under Delhi’s Winter Action Plan.
“We start treating people in shelters for common winter ailments, such as cough and cold, fever, joint pains etc. Since all shelters are full in winter because it’s too cold to sleep outdoors, there are always lots of patients,” said Dr Rastogi, who works in the central district that covers Lutyen’s Delhi.
Though the scheme has existed for close to a decade, the AAP government announced three weeks ago that it has constituted 10 teams of doctors to visit night shelters twice a week between 7 and 11pm.
On Friday, the AAP government launched one van for de-addiction services for the homeless in their night shelters that collectively accommodate 20,000 people, but doctors on call for routine ailments have yet to get even one.
“We got vans, but it stopped a year ago and now I use the Metro, many others use twowheelers. Vans not only make it is safer and easier to commute between shelters at night, but also helps us cover more shelters during the allotted time,” said a South-district doctor, who did not want to be named.
”According to the schedule, I am supposed to visit 10 to 12 shelters every night. It’s impossible and also compromises on the quality of care we can provide,” the doctor said.
In the absence of transport, shelters off the beaten track slip between the cracks.
“Some of the shelters are scattered, maybe five in a 5km radius. How do we travel to all of them without a vehicle? So, most of the teams have selected the most important ones – where there are more people or where the VIPs visit – and go there regularly,” said another doctor, on condition of anonymity.
In south-east Delhi’s Kilokari and Sarai Kale Khan areas, the shelters haven’t had a single doctor’s visit this year. “Last winter, a doctor would visit once or twice a week in a van, but this year, we have not had a single visit and the winter is already half-way through,” said Ram Lal, 60.
Visits are few and far between at many of the East Delhi shelters too. “A doctor does visit, but there is no fixed routine. Last time, he made the caretaker throw away the medicines in the first-aid box because they had expired, and my brother had to be taken to a private clinic when he had diarrhoea,” said Chander Singh, 44, sleeps in a shelter at Karkardooma.