Capital battles not just recurring fires, but also lack of help for burn victims

City grapples with shortage of beds with many patients coming from nearby states

When Tubai Sarkar came to Delhi four months ago, little did he know he would have deformities for the rest of his life. “His burns do not bother me. But I cannot get over the fact that he will never get back the limbs lost,” the mother of the 21-year-old says.

A resident of Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, Sarkar came in contact with a high tension wire in Mahavir Enclave, where he distributed water cans, and suffered 45 per cent burns. He is recuperating in the Safdarjung dharamsala.


Sarkar is among thousands others who have survived burn injuries with lifelong deformities.

As the capital grapples with just 250 beds to accommodate burn victims, patients often wait for over three years for corrective surgeries.

Prolonged treatment also means a family losing out on the only earning hand.
“Burn treatment is very expensive. By the current hospital budgets, the government cannot provide the latest and best available in the global market. We have to depend on conservative wound management, which leads to prolonged treatment,” head of the department of burns and plastic surgery at Lok Nayak Hospital Dr Rajeev B Ahuja says.

LNJP has 101 beds, of which 50 are for acute burn cases. The remaining are for plastic surgeries, which also include beds for burn reconstruction surgeries.

Safdarjung has 65 beds for burn patients and 45 for plastic surgeries. In case of disaster,  hospitals can add another 20 beds for burn cases.

While 3y5-40 per cent burn patients succumb to injuries because of the nature of the wounds itself and contracting infection from prolonged treatment, 60 per cent of them live with deformities, Dr Ahuja says.  


The burn beds in the city handle not only Delhi-NCR but also a significant number of cases from Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Bihar.

“In India alone, we see more fire cases than the whole world combined,” Dr Ahuja adds.
While LNJP and Safdarjung have the biggest burn units, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital has a small unit. There are a few beds each in Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Guru Teg Bahadur and Hindu Rao hospitals.

In Delhi, there are no private hospitals with burn units. Apart from one or two hospitals, most private hospitals do not even admit burn patients.

 Though the situation is likely to improve with private players entering the scene, setting up burn units is often not considered viable by these hospitals. 

With overcrowding, the government hospitals are forced to discharge patients early.
While the average healing time for a patient is one to two months, patients are mostly discharged in 15 days even if their wounds do not fully heal by then.

“Is it possible to provide the same healthcare at home that the hospital staff would? But there were not enough beds at the hospital, so they discharged my son after two weeks. We come once a week for dressing. It is so difficult to get him here,” Abhay Kumar, who hails from Jaunpur district in UP, says.

Kumar’s 28-year-old son received 35 per cent burns while working at a factory here.
“We do not want to release patients till they completely recover. But when there is a lot of pressure and patients are in a position to go, we discharge them,” head of department of burns, plastic and maxillofacial surgery at Safdarjung Hospital Dr K Agrawal says.

“If patients from only Delhi-NCR come to us, we should be able to manage all of them. We also get patients also from other states. It is practically impossible to manage all of them. That’s why we are short of beds with patients coming in from far-off places also,” Dr Agrawal adds.

Everyday, the major burn units in the city see at least 20 fresh and 150 follow-up cases. Earlier, there were more women victims due to mishaps in kitchens, but now the trend has shifted with more men engaged in the industry. Suicide, homicide, accident in chemical warehouses and coming in contact with high tension wire in unauthorised colonies form a chunk of burn patients.

Counselling helps to some extent


For the immediate relatives of survivors, life comes to a standstill after an mishap. Radha is clueless on “how life will go on” after her husband met with an accident two months ago in Punjabi Bagh.

“Our life depends on this man. And now he has lost both his legs,” she says, fidgeting with her fingers. “I have four children and now him. Had it not been for my neighbours, I would have never known how to get on with life,” the 30-year-old Sangam Vihar resident says.

Now she feels slightly more stable to accompany her husband for the dressing process. “I think it is time I think of work. I cannot let them starve.”

Counselling is an important part of the healing process of burn patients all over the world. Relatives of survivors also need intensive counselling to cope with the changed circumstances.“Counselling and rehabilitation are equally important,” Dr Agrawal says.
But the situation in India is dismal with practically no options for counselling. In any case, several patients go untreated with overcrowding at public hospitals.

“How can you treat anxiety when 40 per cent of the patients are dying and the other 60 per cent have got five or six deformities?” Ahuja says. “We have to improve burn care first, bring it to a certain level and then think of counselling. What is the value of counselling when patients are dying?”

The LNJP burns and plastic surgery department recently conducted a study on the ‘quality of lives of 60 survivors between 30 and 60 per cent burns’. “Their quality of life is miserable,” Dr Ahuja says.

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