In a first, BMC gets talking about street children’s health

In a first, BMC gets talking about street children’s health
Express News Service
Posted online: Saturday , May 10, 2008 at 01:07:40

Mumbai, May 9 Recently, we took a friend to the Bhagwati Hospital because he was getting lumps in his leg and were shooed out. Even the community worker there does not help us because we are street children and have no elders to accompany us,” said 17-year-old Manish Jain, who came to Mumbai a decade ago.

He, along with 12 others, voiced his concerns on Friday during a consultation for drafting guidelines towards comprehensive health services for street children. Organised by non-governmental organisation YUVA, officials from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) participated along with CHILDLINE, a first for the civic public health set-up.

Mumbai has an estimated 1.5 lakh street children, who take refuge at railway stations, pavements and shelter homes, with little or no access to healthcare.

An ongoing independent study in Dadar, Bandra, Kurla, Borivali and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus being conducted by Bangalore-based Institute of Public Health, as part of the process towards drafting the guidelines, showed that children visit government hospitals due to their affordability, but they have to purchase medicines. Of the 128 children surveyed, 98 had suffered some form of illness in the past year and 92 children visited a health facility. Some children mentioned having to pay bribes in public hospitals, while 87 children were addicted to some form of psychosomatic substances.

Most street children were seen sniffing whitener fluid. Surprisingly, no use of tobacco, sniffing glue or drugs was found in Borivali. Children at Borivali said that it was an “unspoken dictum” among them.

The study also found that NGOs are concentrated at bigger railway stations, leaving out small stations like Sandhurst Road, Wadala and Mira Road.

Further, an analysis of calls to CHILDLINE, a helpline for children, showed that 39 per cent of calls for assistance were for medical help and 28 per cent of intervention calls were by street children. As many as 5,358 calls were made in the last four years by street children seeking medical assistance and 1,595 calls were received in the last four years for medical sponsorship.

“Basically we did not have any primary data about street children. Over the last few years, we have observed that with strict police eviction from railway stations, children are sleeping under bridges and pavements. It becomes that much more difficult to track them,” said Denny John from the Institute of Public Health.

“It was a good seminar. We will take the recommendations later to senior officials at BMC,” said Dr Radha Aras from Nair Hospital. The hospital had also launched a health programme in south Mumbai, along with with NGOs, to develop peer educators or “bal doctors”. This BMC programme is not functional any more.

Aras noted that as most street children do not have bathing and toilet facilities, many suffer from chronic diseases like asthma and dysentery.

Dr Pallavi Shelke from Sion Hospital who attended Friday’s session also noted that respiratory tract infection was most common, along with complaints of diarrhoea, sticky stools, abdominal pain and worm infestation, scabies, boils, malnutrition.

Sion Hospital has been reaching out to 80 beneficiaries at the Don Bosco Shelter, Wadala, for a decade through a programme involving health education, immunisation, medical aid and referrals.

“The recommendations from this meeting will be taken back to BMC and we hope to formulate a policy. It should be a common policy for all civic hospitals,” said Mary Arokiya, YUVA.

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