Institute for Rural Health Studies

Travellers' Aid for the Sick

When rural people travel to Hyderabad for specialized medical attention, they arrive in Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station, which is the largest bus terminal in Hyderabad. Before the IRHS Travellers' Aid for the Sick project was launched in the bus station, rural people faced a difficult, expensive and, in some cases, fatal quest for medical care. Touts, who preyed on sick people's fear and inexperience, patrolled the bus station platforms. When the touts found someone who was unwell, they would take them to a private hospital, where the patient would often receive poor quality or unnecessary medical care. In return for this substandard treatment, the poor patient often had to go into debt or sell his meagre assets.

The IRHS has put an end to this unnecessary suffering. We have stationed patient counsellors in an office in Mahatma Ghandi Bus Station. The office was purpose built for the IRHS by the government and funded by the Ministry Of Health. There are two patient counsellors who work at the bus station, who rotate between patrolling the platforms and staffing a small healthcare centre. The roles of our patient counsellors at Imlibun Station include:

  • Finding sick people who have come to Hyderabad in search of medical care and directing them to the appropriate government hospital;
  • Guiding referrals from the IRHS village clinics to the hospital where they have an appointment;
  • Health education of travellers and bus station staff with a focus on HIV prevention and reproductive health, (free condoms are always available);
  • Basic first aid


Counsellors based in Travellers' Aid for the Sick ensure that every year all our referral patients, as well as more than 5000 others who come seeking medical help, safely reach the right hospital.

A patient counsellor speaking with cancer patients at MNJ Institute of Oncology.

A patient counsellor with a young girl waiting for a leg amputation at Osmania Hospital.

Patient counsellors make sure patients receive the correct treatment. This policy is so successful it has been replicated in other countries and helped to reduce corruption.

Travellers' Aid for the Sick won the Ashoka citizen base investment award

Patient Counsellors

IRHS supports a unique program, in which a network of patient counsellors ensure that the rural poor actually get the healthcare that they need.

Generally, people from remote rural areas will not have travelled much further than their local market town. When poor rural people become unwell they are often forced, by the lack of specialist healthcare in their area, to travel to Hyderabad in search of treatment. Hyderabad is the only city, in the western region of this large state of 80 million people, which has high quality government-run specialist health facilities, including the state's only specialist children's hospital.

Rural people are frequently illiterate and have no experience or understanding of the city or the complexities of the hospital system (hospitals in the capital city are frequently divided into specialties: Cancer Hospital, Eye Hospital, Fever Hospital, etc.).

Our patient counsellors are trained and skilled local people, who assist the rural poor in need of medical attention at every step of the way. They are trilingual, and can speak to patients in English, Hindi or Telugu, the local language. Patient Counsellors provide the poor with the confidence to seek healthcare, outside of their villages.

Patient Counsellors in hospitals

IRHS patient counsellors are also stationed in all major government hospitals in Hyderabad, through a legal government order. They work closely with the counsellors at Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station in ensuring that poor rural people receive the care they are entitled to.

Their roles include:

  • Guiding patients through admission and discharge;
  • Counselling people about the treatment they will receive and offering support throughout their visit to the hospital, either as inpatients or outpatients;
  • Funding patients and their families when they cannot afford treatment, tests, transport, accommodation or food.