Our city, with its slew of corporate hospitals vying for foreign patients, may be one of the top health tourism destinations on earth. However, for those living in the 500-plus slums here, even basic State-sponsored healthcare is a mirage. It is one of IT city's greatest shames that a poor woman, with two small children in tow, was forced to give birth in a public park in Kamalanagar before dying of excessive bleeding on Sunday before last. In a city where the well-heeled pay a small fortune for the privilege of having their baby in a birthing boutique, surely this is a stark pointer to the abysmal healthcare for those from less fortunate circumstances.

Other cases

Sadly, the case of 35-year-old Purnima is not a one-off incident. Last August, Salma (26) was turned away by an ayah at the Kasturba Nagar Maternity Home when she reached there in intense labour pain. This Bande Slum resident in Kasturba Nagar on Mysore Road, was forced to return home without medical assistance. She gave birth to a stillborn baby as she was alighting from the autorickshaw near her husband Zameer's home.

A month later, 19-year-old Sultana, wife of Chand Khan, was denied proper medical care when she arrived at Jagjivan Ram (JJR) Nagar Maternity Hospital. A callous doctor asked her to go home, and Sultana went on to deliver the child in the toilet of her home in Farooquia Nagar (Arafat Nagar) on Hosahalli Main Road.

Out of reach

Salma and Sultana are only two of the several cases recorded by Rashmi Madhav Prasad and a team of activists from the Society for People's Action for Development (SPAD) that illustrate how the urban poor are treated in the State-run hospitals. Bangalore Urban area, with a population of 95,85,910 (66 lakh in Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike limits), has 220 hospitals, including primary healthcare centres and general hospitals. This is apart from the 94 BBMP healthcare facilities.

In comparison, the growth of private sector hospitals has been phenomenal, with 10,000 private hospitals in Bangalore Urban.

SPAD president Augustine C. Kaunds argues that the urban poor are worse off than their rural counterparts when it comes to healthcare. “The latter 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. It is an irony that a city overflowing with health and medical professionals has very little to offer in terms of healthcare to the poor,” he said.

More awareness

Senior doctors in Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute (BMCRI), who admit that most services are inaccessible to the urban poor, said that more awareness on the existing government health insurance schemes such as Janani Suraksha and schemes for BPL card-holders and SC/ST communities in urban areas would help. Pointing out that not many from the city came forward to avail themselves of these schemes in Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital, a senior doctor suggested that the government make healthcare free for everyone, irrespective of their social status. “This can happen just by increasing our annual grants,” he said.

'There are schemes'

Bangalore Urban District Health Officer M. Thimmappa said that the State government had good health schemes for the poor in rural areas and some of them were even extended to urban areas. But not many are aware of them.

S. Selva Kumar, Mission Director of National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), said these schemes would be implemented in urban areas once the proposed National Urban Health Mission takes off.

Public-private partnerships could be considered in areas where the government facilities are out of reach for the poor, he said.