INDIA

Desperate rush for food packets outside Niloufer

Desperate rush for food packets outside Niloufer, the vie

Attendants of ailing children forced to play the food-distribution lottery to cut down expenses, clueless about GHMC’s Annapurna centres

Watching their child ailing is arguably the most painful experience for any parent, but attendants at Niloufer Hospital here have another battle at hand too — taking care of hunger pangs without running out of whatever little money they have.

Every time a food-distribution vehicle pulls up near the biggest State-run paediatric tertiary care centre, they rush towards it, without minding the traffic on the road. Jostling with pavement dwellers and with hands stretched out, they go through this drill almost every afternoon in the hope of grabbing a free food packet. Those who are unable to get their hands on the packet put up with a fiercely growling stomach for a few more hours until another such vehicle or a group of volunteers lands up with food.

Niloufer Hospital, which mostly caters to patients from economically-disadvantaged sections, has around 1,400 beds and is nearing full capacity with a large number of children admitted for serious health ailments, respiratory issues, and seasonal diseases. Many of them have come from neighbouring States too.

Every penny counts

Usually, a child is accompanied by no less than two to four family members, often parents. That puts the number of attendants at 3,000 to 4,000. Since they belong to a poor background, with most of them coming here from far-away places, they try to save every penny that they can. Buying three meals a day for two to three persons easily works up to around ₹300.

If their child is admitted for weeks or months, managing money to buy food and other supplies for all the attendants is undoubtedly a mammoth challenge. The hospital provides food only to the patients. So, voluntary organisations or individuals distribute food packets in the mornings and afternoons.

GHMC food centres

The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) distributes ₹5-a-meal through Annapurna centres till afternoon, but many attendants who come from far-away districts are unaware of the scheme or the location. Given this scenario, they depend on the food-distribution vehicles. Such is the demand that 50-100 packets are grabbed in less than 10 minutes.

A. Ramesh, a young farmer from Shadnagar, was among the many attendants who tried to get his hands on the food packets. Carrying his son on his shoulders and holding his daughter’s hand, he paced towards one of the cars that had arrived for the food distribution on Monday afternoon.

However, as he got closer, he found out that he had run out of luck and the car out of food packets. The GHMC’s Annapurna centre closed by around 2 p.m.

Mr Ramesh has been camping on the hospital premises along with his wife and two other kids. His eight-year-old daughter is undergoing treatment for dengue for the past three days. “I don’t know where the GHMC food centre is. We wait here for the vehicles to arrive with food packets,” he said, adding that he has no option but to hope for another food-distribution vehicle to show up.

This melee has been a common sight outside the hospital since last week. Another attendant, who did not wish to be quoted, said her husband has stopped giving her money and she is at the mercy of the voluntary organisations which distribute food. Her son has been undergoing treatment for nearly a month.

A. Ambedkar’s son was admitted at the hospital after he accidentally swallowed pesticide. The farmer from Nagarkurnool has been at the hospital along with two other family members for the past several days. A meal for three costs ₹100, which is beyond his means, he added.

Attendants’ plea

Other attendants said that since people from far-flung villages visit the hospital and are not familiar with the locality, putting up signboards about the Annapurna centres in Telugu, Urdu and English in and around the hospital, the timings, and location would be of great help. They also seek extension of timings.

A worker at the GHMC’s Annapurna near Niloufer Hospital said they open the centre at around 10.30 am and keep it open till 2 pm or whenever truck comes to pick up the vessels from them.

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