Fahima*, a 62-year-old widow from Korail, a marginalized slum of Dhaka city, Bangladesh has been living with cancer, and a permanent colostomy for the past three years. As the main breadwinner in her family, she had to find a way to earn money. Before the outbreak of COVID-19 in Bangladesh, she sold boiled eggs at the roadside to cover her medical expenses and to support her family. Her daughter worked as a domestic worker in an elite area of the city.
To meet the medical expenses, Fahima had to go through great hardships. On top of that, the lockdown which has been in place in Bangladesh for two months has disrupted public life. She had to shut down the shop just after the pandemic began. Even if the rent of her family’s home was somehow waived, without an income, the family would starve and she would not be able to pay for medical care.
When the lockdown was slightly relaxed, she set up a temporary cigarette shop at the corner of the road. With her colostomy bag, Fahima is forbidden to do heavy work, so she is dealing with light weight things. She carries the goods to the site in a bucket around 8am every morning while her little school-going granddaughter carried her cigarette tray. Rickshaw pullers and pedestrians are the usual daily customers. At the end of day, Fahima sells around twenty five hundred taka with a marginal profit of around three to four hundred taka (approx. $5). This is insufficient to meet all her expenses.
The Centre for Palliative Care (CPC) at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), Dhaka in collaboration with the Worldwide Hospice Palliative Care Alliance (WHPCA) has been running a community based palliative care project in Korail slum since 2015, shortly referred to as: ‘Compassionate Korail’. The project has been supporting older people with serious illness, frailty and unmet care needs in need of palliative care in Korail through a compassionate community approach since the beginning and still continuing throughout this COVID-19 pandemic.
During a conversation with the palliative care team at the Compassionate Korial project, she expressed her gratitude. She said: “With your food pack I can manage few days and I also get all the medicines and colostomy bag. In this way, even if it is difficult, the day goes by.”
She has been supported with necessary medicines, colostomy bags and monthly food packs from this project since 2015. Although she has two sons and four daughters, she lives with her youngest daughter. Her daughter’s husband who earned a little as an electrician, is even unemployed now due to lockdown. Her other children are busy with their families and own lives. She is struggling to meet the family need solely with her income. In recent months, though they received some relief, she mentioned that this was inadequate to cover her needs.
Life is becoming hard day by day. The average income in the slums of Bangladeshi cities and among the rural poor has dropped immensely since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. This poor lady’s effort in earning at roadside with her colostomy bag and hardships are reflective of real suffering of people in the low economic groups within the slum.
The Compassionate Korail project provides community based palliative care, as well as food packs, to people with serious illness in the Korial Slum. This essential support helps the poorest and most marginalised people in Korail Slum meet their basic needs and improves the quality of their lives.
*Not her real name