They are everywhere -- so many of them, in fact, that society no longer sees them: the millions of girls and boys living on the streets of India. Alone, they struggle with deplorable conditions, the dangers of exploitation and abuse, and the sinking feeling that there may be nothing to eat that day, or the next. And when they are ill -- which is often -- they have nowhere to turn.
“Access to health care, in general, is challenging in India,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Socioeconomic status, gender, and geography all contribute to an inequitable system where a significant percentage of the population does not have adequate care. As a result, far too many people are dying of what should be preventable communicative diseases and malnutrition. And this is even more true for street kids.”
In order to help address this challenge, Salesian missionaries in New Delhi have launched a new mobile health clinic. Each day, a doctor, nurse and social worker travel in a specially-equipped van to 11 different areas of the city where homeless children congregate. Once there, they offer free medical exams and treatment for those under the age of 18.
“So many of the children suffer from malnutrition, which leaves them vulnerable to disease and other conditions,” says Father Jose Mathew, provincial of the Salesian province in New Delhi. “This new service has quickly become a crucial part of our outreach as we strive to improve the prospects, and futures, of the street kids we are dedicated to helping.”
Each day, the health care team covers four rotating locations, with as many as 25 children showing up at each site. Most often, they treat malaria, traumatic injuries and infected wounds, upper respiratory issues, anemia, fever and abdominal pain. And, because despair often breeds substance abuse -- a serious, and growing, problem throughout India -- the team also provides alcohol, drug and tobacco counseling for those who need it.
“We educate them as well,” says Fr. Jose. “We teach them proper hygiene, and explain the preventive measures they can take to maintain a healthy body and mind.”
While it’s too early to measure outcomes, this mobile medical project has already made a profound difference for hundreds of children who otherwise would suffer needlessly.
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