Teheran| Patients in Beds, Families on the Street

The following piece was written by an Iranian citizen journalist on the ground inside the country, who writes under a pseudonym to protect his identity.

  • A patient lies in hospital. Outside, family members spend the night on the street, staying in a tent on the sidewalk or an alleyway near the hospital. For many Iranian families, forced to travel to strange, faraway cities to find medical care for their loved ones, this is a common experience.

    The uneven distribution of hospitals and medical services in Iran mean that, in many cases, people from small towns and villages must travel to big cities for medical treatment. Hospitals in cities including Tehran, Shiraz, Tabriz, Mashhad, Isfahan and Ahvaz regularly host patients from towns and villages in the surrounding vicinity. But there’s no one to host those traveling with the patients, and they cannot afford to pay for hotels, hostels or even the modest accommodation fees hospitals charge those accompanying a patient. So, until the patient is discharged, they sleep on the streets.

    A walk near public hospitals in Tehran — such as Shari’ati, Tehran Heart Center, Shahid Rajaei and Imam Khomeini — paints a clear picture. The practice has been going on for years. It has not escaped the attention of the media, though it only features in the news from time to time.

    Every now and then government officials make promises to solve the problem. In autumn 2012, Mehr news agency ran the headline “Deputy Health Minister Promises to Solve the Problem of Lodging for Patients’ Companions” after Dr. Hassan Emami, Deputy Health Minister in charge of medical services, issued a statement. “The question of patients’ companions has turned into a complicated problem at state-run hospitals,” he told the agency. “When it comes to services provided by nurses, medical assistants and paramedics, hospitals are short-staffed so they ask the help of people who accompany the patients. Of course, this disrupts the administration of the hospital.” Referring to a scheme that was originally set up in 2005 and aims to provide medical services for localities with a population of under 20,000, Emami said “with the implementation of the Family Physician Program, the number of people who come to big cities like Tehran would decrease and the question of lodgings for companions would be solved.” Dr. Emami added that “if there are enough medical assistants and paramedics in the hospitals, the number of companions who come to the hospitals would diminish.” He also mentioned that charities set up projects to achieve this goal too.

    The More it Changes

    But it has been two years since Ahmadinejad’s Deputy Health Minister made those promises. Now there is a new president and a new administration. Health Ministry officials have changed. The success of the Family Physician Program is questionable at best, and charities have done nothing noteworthy. The problem of family members forced to sleep outside hospitals is still persistent.

    I went to Shari’ati Hospital and wandered in the nearby streets to get some firsthand accounts. A few families have set up camp on the sidewalk opposite the hospital, waiting until their family members are released.

    One family is from the western province of Kurdistan that borders Iraq: a mother, two sons and a young daughter. Their father has acute pulmonary problems and has been hospitalized for a week. And for a week, they have been camping, living in  a tent and taking turns to attend their father at the hospital. They say they don’t know anybody in Tehran and they cannot afford to pay for lodging.  A little further down there is a family from the North Khorasan, which borders Afghanistan. The stories are similar. The only differences are the types of illness and the color of the chadors the women wear.

    Hospital guards do not allow families to set up tents on hospital grounds, so they turn to the sidewalk, using it as a place to sleep, rest, cook and maybe daydream occasionally.

    Earlier this year, the subject came up again. Of course, further promises were made. “By the year’s end we will take decisive action to solve the problem of people who accompany patients and have no lodgings,” promised Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf after meeting with the health ministry and Tehran medical universities officials. “It was decided that dormitories and lodgings for patients’ companions would be placed under the care of charities. The land will be donated by the Health Ministry and the charities will build them in cooperation of the Tehran municipality.”

    But there’s less than six months before the end of the calendar year. It’s not known whether the mayor’s promise will be fulfilled. But whatever happens, in the meantime, families who bring their sick members to big cities for medical treatment have to cope with two heartbreaks: the sickness of their loved ones and being strangers in a strange place by themselves, without any shelter.

    Solmaz Mazaheri, Citizen-Journalist, Tehran

    Source: Iran Wire

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