Our city may be known world over for health tourism what with top corporate hospitals vying for international patients. But for those in the city's over 500 slums, even basic healthcare is a mirage.

Twenty-six-year-old Salma, wife of Zameer, a resident of Bande Slum in Kasturba Nagar on Mysore Road, was turned away by an ayah at the Kasturba Nagar Maternity Home on August 12 when she staggered up there with labour pains. Forced to return home without medical assistance, Ms. Salma was further traumatised when she gave birth to a stillborn baby as she was alighting from the autorickshaw.

Heartless behaviour

“I was screaming in pain when I went to the hospital with my neighbour. I could feel the baby almost coming out, but the ayah refused to let me in saying I did not have any blood test and scan reports. All through the nine months, I was seeing a doctor at the Sirsi Circle Maternity Hospital. But because I was in labour, we rushed to the nearby Kasturba Nagar Maternity Hospital. If I had got proper care, my baby would have been alive,” Ms. Salma told The Hindu.

Similar is the case of 19-year-old Sultana, wife of Chand Khan, a resident of Farooquianagar (Arafat Nagar) on Hosahalli Main Road. Ms. Sultana, who had been receiving antenatal care at the Jagjeevanram (JJR) Nagar Maternity Hospital, was also denied proper medicare when she went into labour on June 17. The duty doctor first admitted her and prescribed some medicines. Later, another doctor, who took over the duty, told her she could go home and return the next day. Ms. Sultana returned home, only to deliver the baby in the toilet.

These case studies, recorded by Rashmi Madhav Prasad and a team of activists from the Society for People's Action for Development (SPAD), are just two instances of how the urban poor in the city have no access to healthcare.

Rural areas better off?

“Maybe people in rural areas are better off than the city's urban poor. They are at least covered under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and have Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) and Auxiliary Nursing Midwives (ANMs) to attend to them,” said Ms. Prasad.

Expressing outrage at the callous attitude of the State Government and the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) towards providing quality healthcare to the 15 lakh slum-dwellers in the city, SPAD president Augustine C. Kaunds said: “Even if we complain, all that the authorities do is issue a memo or warn the staff. The public health system should be accountable to the poor. They should not be deprived of their fundamental right to healthcare.”

Distant dream

Members of Jana Arogya Andolana (JAAK), an NGO, expressed shock at the state of BBMP hospitals and health centres. “In a city overflowing with health and medical professionals, it is unfortunate that institutional deliveries are still a distant dream for poor women,” said a JAAK member E. Premdas.

Admitting lack of adequate healthcare facilities for the urban poor, NRHM Mission Director S. Selva Kumar said the Union Health Ministry's National Urban Health Mission was being planned to cover the urban poor. “It is the BBMP's responsibility to ensure efficient functioning of its hospitals,” he said.

Siddaiah reacts

BBMP Commissioner Siddaiah said he would get the matter probed and stringent action would be initiated against the hospital staff if they were found to have erred. “Maternity homes are supposed to function round the clock and if services are denied, it will not be tolerated,” he said.