Delhi Government leaves Okhla in the lurch as people suffer in the absence of a Government hospital

Although Delhi Govt bought land in 2013 to build a large, government hospital in the area, the construction has not yet started in the last seven years

Al Shifa Hospital in Okhla
Al Shifa Hospital in Okhla

Mohd Asim Khan

Once known for its bird sanctuary and the industrial area, Okhla in South-East Delhi has grown into a bustling suburb adjacent to Faridabad in Haryana and the UP border. The area saw rapid expansion and development in the early 1990s with a large number of educated and middle-class Muslims in Delhi settling in the area.

Areas like Zakir Nagar, Batla House, Joga Bai, Ghaffar Manzil, Noor Nagar, Johri Farm, Abul Fazal Enclave and later Shaheen Bagh saw a massive surge of population, which is estimated to be around a million now. Over the next 10 years, the healthcare needs of the population grew and the need for a government hospital was felt.

“There are a few big private hospitals nearby like Apollo, Holy Family and Escorts apart from a number of smaller ones. But these are expensive and only well-off people can afford to go there,” says Mohd Tayeb, a retired teacher who has been living in Abul Fazal since 1990.

The nearest big government hospitals that can attend to all types of serious healthcare and emergency needs as well as accident cases are Safdarjung Hospital and AIIMS, both 10 kms away.

On paper the distance does not look much, but given the traffic situation in the area, it doesn’t take less than an hour to reach any of these hospitals. “Around one hour if you are lucky and if it is not during peak hours. Otherwise during rush hours,it may take even two hours to get there,” claims advocate Musharraf Ali who lives in Shaheen Bagh.

Besides the distance and time, the cost of travelling and the massive crowds at these hospitals are the other debilitating factors.

“You cannot imagine what hardship it causes to an average person to go to Safdarjung or AIIMS, stand there in long, unending queues for hours just to consult a doctor in an OPD. For them, it’s also the loss of a day’s work,” says Mujeebur Rehman, social activist and lawyer.

In case of surgeries etc, there is long waiting period at these hospitals because patients from all over north India come to these central government-run hospitals.

Former Okhla MLA Asif Mohd Khan told National Herald that the Sheila Dikshit government had approved a 100-bed hospital at Sarita Vihar in 2013 to cater to the secondary healthcare needs of the population in the area after a demand was made for a hospital. The land has been earmarked for the same. But the proposed 7-storey hospital is yet to come up.

“The biggest challenge in building a hospital in Delhi is the availability of land. That hurdle was cleared by our government under Sheilaji. The land was identified and purchased from DDA. I don’t know why the hospital construction did not start. It’s been Aam Aadmi Party’s government in Delhi for the last seven years,” Khan said.

The AAP government came up with mohalla clinics, but clearly these small, part-time set ups (timings 9 am to 1 pm) are inadequate in handling any emergency or providing treatment for diseases like dengue, chikungunya etc that need hospitalisation.

Al-Shifa Hospital: In 2011 the Human Welfare Trust started Al-Shifa, a 50-bed multi-speciality hospital to provide quality healthcare at affordable price. Healthcare is expensive and out of reach for a large section of people living in and around this area. “There are patients who cannot afford even a specialist doctor’s fee which is anything between Rs. 1,500-Rs.2,000 per visit in a private hospital like Apollo or Escorts. We provide such consultations with the same doctors for Rs.500. We cover the doctor’s fee as well as hospitalisation costs for poor patients,” M. Abdul Nazar, Director of Al-Shifa hospital told National Herald.

Around 500 patients visit Al-Shifa hospital daily. “We have now got approval for 73 beds. So will be able to cater to a few more people now,” he added.

However, even a 70-bed hospital is inadequate for an estimated population of 10 lakh, he agrees. Even if one percent of the population requires hospitalisation every month, the number would be a whopping seven thousand.

AAP’s Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan could not be reached despite repeated phone calls and a message by NH for a comment on the matter.

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