The Kolkata newspapers regularly carry stories of babies being found in garbage bins, of seriously ill patients dying because the electricity went off in the intensive care unit for hours on end. While there have been arguments that such stories are motivated and based on careless research, to visit a public hospital in this city is to witness despair.
In the weary crowd at the HIV department of the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, a premier government institution, Shanti Yadav's piercing, kohl-rimmed eyes stand out. "For the last four years my husband has been very sick, in and out of hospitals. I have spent thousands of rupees to save him. Hospitals, medicines, tests, hospitals. Now I am reduced to being a servant in people's homes to take care of my daughter. If it weren't for her I would have gone mad." Shanti, 32, keeps a watchful eye on her husband Kamal who is barely able to sit up on the bench because of his incessant wheezing.
The Calcutta Medical College in central Kolkata is the oldest in South East Asia , built in 1835. It is a teaching hospital; its maternity ward, Eden Hospital , was once one of the best and had the highest number of deliveries. Its maternity management was cited by doctors all over the country as the " Eden Hospital protocol".
Four years ago, Kamal, a taxi driver, fell ill with high fever and nausea. He was admitted for tests to a well-known private hospital run by a religious trust. Shanti was confident about the hospital because she had delivered her daughter there. After 10 days and numerous tests Kamal was released undiagnosed. He was re-admitted to the same hospital after a few months when he almost collapsed; this time the doctors diagnosed tuberculosis and jaundice and began treatment.
For a few months, Kamal felt better and resumed driving his taxi for a few hours every day. By then Shanti had sold off her jewellery and brass utensils to pay Rs 70,000 for her husband's hospitalisation, medical tests and medicines, besides the household expenses.
A year ago, Kamal was very sick. This time Shanti's brother, also a taxi driver, told Kamal to visit Medical College 's HIV department. He knew about the disease because his friend's illness had gone undetected for years till the blood test proved him positive. Tests proved that Kamal had full-blown AIDS.
Today, Shanti works as a maid in three houses and earns Rs 1,200 a month. She brings her husband to the hospital each time his condition worsens, or to consult a doctor for his fever and diarrhoea. She is grateful that the doctors finally succeeded in diagnosing her husband's illness and that she had to spend only Rs 1,000 for his medical tests. But she is disgusted at the behaviour of the staff. "They are unhelpful and rude. I wonder if they are human beings at all."
-- Rajashri Dasgupta