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May 27, 2017

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India's sick shelter in old buses during treatment

NEW DELHI, India--On a recent winter night in the Indian capital, eight-year-old cancer patient Habiba Khatun huddled with her mother against the cold on the floor of a disused bus.

Khatun, who has a malignant tumor in her right eye, has been sharing the bus with about 30 other patients for a week while she receives treatment at the state-run All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

"We know this bus is not the best place to live. But we are poor and what option do we have?" Khatun's mother asked, as her daughter, who has undergone 12 chemotherapy sessions since she was two, sat nearby.

"It is at least better than living inside public toilets or out in the open," she told AFP.

Like hundreds of others, the pair traveled from a rural area — a village in Uttar Pradesh state — for day-time specialist care at AIIMS, where treatment is relatively cheap and often free, before being turned out of its overcrowded wards at night.

The capital's steep hotel and rental prices force scores to sleep on pavements around AIIMS, India's most prestigious public hospital.

With temperatures dropping at night to around four degrees Celsius, the newly elected state government this month donated seven old, public buses for use as shelters outside AIIMS and other hospitals.

For mother-of-two Sulochana Lodhi, the buses, which have been stripped of their seats so patients can sleep on the floor, are a "blessing."

The 30-year-old has needed multiple surgeries and other treatment after burning her tongue, throat and stomach as a result of drinking acid in an attempted suicide last June.

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