NEW DELHI: The All India Institute of Medical Sciences doesn’t always live up to its name as India’s finest medical facility, according to patients and their families who are forced sometimes by the expense to live on the footpaths right outside the hospital.

Guaranteeing access to affordable medical care is central to the Constitution’s promise of providing for each person. Given poor or nonexistent medical facilities at the village or district level, many are referred to AIIMS for procedures as simple as blood transfusions.

The thousands of people who travel to Delhi for treatment here discover that AIIMS may have the country’s leading doctors, but it doesn’t have enough beds for its patients. But because of the affordable treatment available here, they make do by living a hard life in the hospital’s immediate vicinity.

Despite the availability of rooms for rent for as little as Rs 50 per day in nearby Yusuf Sarai, many undergoing medical treatment are unable to afford even this. They are left to fend for themselves.

The crippling out-of-pocket expenditure associated with medical care has left many in debt and distress.

The Citizen interviewed some patients and their families living on the footpaths outside AIIMS, to discover their problems and needs.

Bindia and Leela Kumari, Govindpuri, New Delhi

'We came to get bhaiya treated, he was vomiting and coughing. He’s been sick since 1999. We’ve been out here for nine days now, we don’t know when we will get to go home. The cold weather makes it more difficult, we don’t have many clothes.

Money is an issue, we don’t get food or shelter here. Where should the family of the sick go? We have to buy food for 50 rupees from their canteen and all three of us share it, it is expensive.

There is no place to stay, they kick us out of the shelter at 5 am. Sleeping and not sleeping are the same thing here. It is getting difficult as the days pass by.

Why doesn’t the government help us? It should take care of us. Who will pay for us if we get sick out here, who is responsible?'

Reshma Devi, 60, Pallauj, U.P.

'I have ovarian cancer. I have to keep coming here, every four to five months when the pain comes back, to get treatment. Each time I come, I am made to live outside. It’s been four years, nothing has changed.

We come from a village, we don’t have money. I have spent two-three lakhs already, I don’t know where to go for more.

My son is unemployed because he has to accompany me to Delhi.

Someone comes and gives us food, that’s the only thing keeping us alive. We cannot buy it. I don’t have anything apart from this shawl. The government paid for chemotherapy, but the doctor sometimes asks us to buy medicines from outside, they are expensive, we cannot buy anything else. Who do we go to?

There are fights every night, over food and blankets, everyone is struggling. No one would want to stay here, we’re forced to put up with it.'

Sushila Devi, 72, Bihar

'My son is disabled, he got very sick last year. I want him to get treated and become better. His name is Mahinder Sao. We get some money from the government because he is disabled - but it is very little. We have nothing of our own. We can only barely survive on the government’s money.

I have lived on this footpath in front of the hospital for over a year. There is a lot of suffering. I don’t have money to buy anything. We are dependent on others to give us food. I have sold everything I had for him, and we don’t have anyone else in our family.

Things are bad, but people help each other. They understand each other’s plight. We survive on each other’s kindness.'

Reena Kumari, Bihar

'My husband’s brother can’t stand. It’s been a year, they haven’t admitted him. So we have to take care of him and look after his basic needs on the streets. They don’t have space for him. He’s sick and is made to live with us on the streets.

We’ve used almost all the money we had, they keep writing tests for him and those tests aren’t available in the hospital. Even medicines, they ask us to purchase from outside. We don’t have any more money. We might have to take a loan. We’ve spent almost 22,000 already and now they’ve asked for a 9,000 rupee test also. Where do we go?

Nobody is here to ask anything, they’re only concerned about what happens inside the hospital. People are dying outside. There is no one to extend any help to us.

We’ve left everything behind. It is very difficult.'


'We came here two days back. My brother has a heart condition. It was an emergency case so the hospital immediately took him in. It was all free of cost. Even the medicines they prescribed didn’t cost us anything. We are very happy with their treatment.'

Anonymous, Muzzafarnagar, U.P.

'My son caught a fever three years ago and lost vision in one eye. We showed him to different private hospitals and it cost me 22 lakhs, but there was no improvement in my son’s condition. We finally came to AIIMS six months ago. He got treated free of cost. Now we only come for routine check-ups.

There are some medicines we need from outside but they don’t cost much. I had to get three MRIs done - they were all free of cost. And even on the streets the food that gets served is free. We got good service without making any hefty payment.'

Puran Singh, Aligarh

'My brother Vikram is suffering from acute leukaemia. We have been waiting for a month now. We got referred here from Aligarh Medical College.

Four times the doctors here removed him from the emergency ward. They are saying they don’t have enough beds for patients. My brother is very distressed. He has to stay with us on the footpath here in the cold. He is already suffering so much. We are told to leave the hospital compound by 8 pm.

There are some medicines and some injections that doctors asked us to buy from outside. One injection cost Rs 900. We have paid Rs 9,000 till now. It is very expensive for us and we see no improvement in his condition.'

Ram Chandra, Bihar

'I have problems breathing. I was referred here from AIIMS Patna. I came here last week. I got an appointment immediately without any consultation fees.

There were four medicines I was supposed to buy. Two I got for free from the hospital dispensary. The others I had to buy from a nearby medical store which gave me 60% off - these cost me around Rs 500.

Even though I’m happy with the treatment, it is difficult for me to stay outside, especially in the cold.'

Mohammad Yusuf, U.P.

'My brother Jarif Ahmed is a heart patient. We came here three days ago and ours was an emergency case.

My brother had a bypass surgery. We paid 1 lakh 80 thousand for it. We had to borrow money from relatives - now I don’t know how to repay it.

Even though we get our food free on the streets, we have to buy water every day which costs us 30 rupees. After paying so much for the surgery, even buying water is taking a toll.'

(Cover Photograph RAJAT MISHRA