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Sunday, June 13, 2021

At auto driver’s home of hope for elderly in Bengaluru, vaccination is a stumbling block

Auto Raja, or Thomas Raja, began rescuing destitute and abandoned people from the streets of Bengaluru around 24 years ago and now has nearly 700 residents spread across three separate campuses for women, children and men.

Written by Johnson T A | Bengaluru |
Updated: May 27, 2021 6:48:53 am
Auto Raja at his care home in Bengaluru. (Express Photo)

THEY GATHERED around the ambulance that had brought the middle-aged woman. She was well-dressed, spoke fluent English, sported a pair of sunglasses and carried a leather handbag. “Nobody should touch me,” she said from behind a scarf that covered her face, when a volunteer tried to examine a wound on her foot.

Just a while earlier, she had been rescued from a locality in the city following complaints that she had been sleeping on the streets for several days and approaching local residents — sometimes to make conversation and sometimes turning violent.

This is the latest rescue operation carried out by Home of Hope, a shelter for the elderly homeless and destitute run by Auto Raja, who was once an autorickshaw driver in Bengaluru. The home is now a Covid care centre, too, for those left without care in the middle of a surging pandemic.

“We have created our own Covid care and isolation centre and have sent many of those who have been infected to a government centre for recovery. City officials come occasionally and carry out rapid antigen tests among 15 to 20 people to assess the situation. We have had only one death so far, that of an 88-year-old man, among the 194 people who tested positive,” Auto Raja, 54, said.

Auto Raja, or Thomas Raja, began rescuing destitute and abandoned people from the streets of Bengaluru around 24 years ago and now has nearly 700 residents spread across three separate campuses for women, children and men.

But for private care homes, such as the one run by Raja, the pandemic has also presented its own set of challenges, primarily in getting access to vaccines. In Karnataka, more than 50 per cent (13,357) of the 25,811 Covid deaths that have occurred till Monday have been of persons over the age of 60.

“We did not know whom to approach to get vaccinations for the residents. Now the local PHC has said that they could help us when they have supplies of the vaccine if we can arrange the medical staff to carry out the vaccination,” Dr Dheenadayalan, the in-house doctor at the Home of Hope, said.

“Many could not go to the vaccination centres because they are bed ridden, some are too old. Earlier, they (authorities) were insisting on Aadhaar cards and the destitutes had a problem, but now they are saying they are willing to open it out,” Dr Radha Murthy, a founder of Nightingales Medical Trust, said. The Trust runs several facilities for elders and destitutes around Bengaluru.

“We have been asking them (authorities) whether we could do mobile vaccinations only for the old age homes and they have been saying they cannot allow this. Mobile vaccinations will help the elderly even in the rural areas. It is needed to reach larger numbers of vulnerable people. They should consider it,” she said, adding that homes for the destitute must be allowed to vaccinate residents as well.

“The destitute are people sitting on the streets and we pick them up and bring them to the care homes, and if we do not vaccinate them, then the rest of them will suffer,” she said.

However, unlike these private care homes, state-run facilities have been able to vaccinate residents. “We are doing vaccinations in the Central Relief Committee home. Staff from government hospitals come to the colony and provide vaccines to the residents. We have got Aadhaar cards created for some and we have case numbers for the people, and on that basis also vaccines are given,” said U Chandra Naik, who is the secretary of the Central Relief Committee (CRC) of the state’s Social Welfare Department, which runs a facility for 700 destitutes in Bengaluru.

“Whenever there is availability, they are doing vaccinations at the CRC homes. In one batch, we got 190 people vaccinated and now they have done some more. There are cases of infections but they have recovered. We have strict quarantine protocols, too,” Naik said.

According to the state Health Commissioner Dr K V Trilok Chandra, the state is gradually expanding vaccinations to new target groups. “We have made the disabled eligible for vaccination. As part of target groups, we will provide vaccines to the other vulnerable groups too,” he said.

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