WHEN HE was younger, Vikas Kaushal, 39, who heads the health division at Save the Children, experienced the stigma attached with tuberculosis first-hand, when his father was diagnosed with ocular (eye) TB.
“He was undergoing treatment, but we didn’t tell anyone for fear of what people in the mohalla would say,” he recalled.
Save the Children is among the many individuals, corporates and organisations who have signed up for the ‘Ni-kshay (End-TB) Mitra’ programme – the government’s initiative to rope in community support for the Pradhan Mantri TB Mukt Bharat Abhiyan.
Kaushal said the organisation has adopted 145 children in Gurugram. “If everyone starts supporting TB patients and gets involved, it will help reduce the stigma,” he said.
He said they first started supporting children affected with TB in Uttar Pradesh, and then joined the initiative in Gurugram too. The programme is in line with the organisation’s aim to stop deaths in children due to preventable causes by 2030, he said.
Under the ‘Ni-kshay Mitra’ programme, individuals, NGOs and corporates can “adopt” TB patients by committing support – providing them nutrition, support for diagnostics, and vocational training for their family members. The government has said that it has already received commitments of support for almost all the 9.57 lakh patients who have agreed to be adopted.
While the health ministry has developed basic vegetarian and non-vegetarian options for the monthly nutrition baskets, Dr Shyamli Varshney, 45, from the office of the Director General of Health Services (DGHS), Panchkula, said she likes to include treats for the 11-year-old girl she started supporting in May.
“For the first two months, I gave money to the TB cell. From the third month, however, I started making the kit myself. In addition to the suggested cereals etc, I ensure that I put in something to excite her every month, like Bournvita, fruit jam, cheese, or mayonnaise. The TB treatment affects her taste, so I want her to feel motivated to eat,” said Varshney.
She said the kit costs her Rs 700-800 per month. “That is not too much for me and if it can bring a smile to someone’s face, it is amazing. I will continue to stay in touch with her and will also support others when her treatment ends,” she said.
Her colleague, Dilbagh Singh, 51, said when he heard that his office was starting a drive to provide nutritional support to TB patients, he jumped at the opportunity. “I immediately walked into the office of our DGHS and signed up to adopt two children. I thought it was my duty. When I met the children, it felt good. I tried to encourage them, told them that they should take their medicines regularly and should not be scared,” he said.
Singh and his colleagues collect money at the beginning of the month and purchase the food items in bulk. They then make the nutrition baskets, and hold an event on the 13th of each month to give them away.
For Vivek Singh, 46, who runs a tuition centre in Mirzapur, it was an extension of his work during the pandemic. “When there was mass migration of people across the country during the lockdown, I was out on the road providing them food and water. So, when a person I know reached out to me about a programme where I could support a TB patient, I readily agreed. I have seen a close friend deal with extremely painful spinal TB,” he said.
He has adopted a 30-year-old TB patient who lives 6 kms away, and supplies a nutrition basket every month. “I am doing this for my people. We live in a very small place and everyone knows everyone,” said Singh, who has also decided to talk to students at his tuition centre to raise awareness about the disease.
Manmohan Sharma, 60, director at textile company Mittal International, said they have been supporting 40 patients from Panipat for two months now. “When the government reached out, we agreed to support the patients. Rs 600-700 per person is not a big amount, and if we can make a difference, why not? The thing with diseases like TB is that we cannot do anything without the government, but the government also cannot do anything without community support,” said Sharma.
He said he would also ask TB programme officials to train supervisors in his company, so that they can keep an eye on people who may show symptoms, and encourage them to get tested. “We see workers in our company suffering from TB, but there is so much stigma associated with it that people don’t want to talk about it. Our supervisors will be able to encourage them to seek help,” said Sharma.
The programme is aimed at eliminating TB by 2025. India detects 20-25 lakh TB cases every year, and nearly 4 lakh die of it. At present, 13.5 lakh are undergoing TB treatment, of whom over 9 lakh have consented to being “adopted” under the initiative.
Meanwhile, over 2 lakh people registered to donate blood on the first day of the Raktdaan Amrit Mahotsav on Saturday. The fortnight-long drive, launched on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday, will end on October 2, on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. The target is to collect India’s annual blood requirement of nearly 1.5 crore units.
Union Health Minister Mansukh Madaviya said a “new world record” was set on the first day – over 91,500 people donated blood on Saturday.
Narendra Tiwari, 25, a lawyer from Prayagraj, said he realised the need to donate blood when his father suddenly fell ill during a work trip and needed three units of blood. “He fell very ill when he travelled to Moradabad for work last year, he was admitted to hospital and his haemoglobin level was very low. I reached out to people for blood donation, and many came forward to help. That’s when I realised the importance of blood donation,” he said.
He has donated blood twice since then, and will donate again on Sunday.
Harshey Kushwaha, 25, also from Prayagraj, said he donated blood for the first time last year when a person he knew needed it. “When I saw their face afterwards and the blessings I received, I wanted to keep doing it,” he said. He has also signed up for the programme.