Dr Shelly Batra, Co-Founder and President of Operation ASHA, talks about how the NGO’s fight against TB has gained momentum
" I am calling from Afghanistan. Both my parents died of TB. Now my four-year-old boy has got TB. He looks shrivelled and thin and cannot walk or play. Does Operation ASHA work in Afghanistan? Can they start work in my area? I want my son to live, please help me. May God give you strength to carry on your work! "
" I am Minna. I am 73 years old. I have no food to eat. My sons have thrown me out of the house because I suffer from TB. I have no home, no farms, nothing. I sleep in the verandah of a kind neighbour, who has given me shelter. Will Operation ASHA help me get treated? Will they give me food to eat? "
“ My name is Yusuf. I have completed 23 months of treatment but my TB is no better. I am getting treatment from Islamabad and Rawalpindi by TB specialists. I have a huge tumour in my right lung. CT scan and biopsy found that it is a highly resistant TB that is not getting better. I have lost all hope. Please help me. I am worried about my family, who will take care of my children if I die? ”
After Satyamev Jayate, there have been phone calls, mails, and people knocking at our door, clamouring for help, desperation written in their eyes and on their faces.
There has been a sudden surge of interest in TB from all quarters, not just from all parts of India, but also from neighbouring countries. Operation ASHA has experienced a flood of questions, comments and responses from viewers, mostly asking about how to approach the RNTCP and what to do next if there is no one concerned with their plight. Most importantly, TB patients called on phone lines and sent e-mails with their personal problems, including patients with complicated cases, who felt that OpASHA was their only hope for succour and relief.
OpASHA experienced a rise in the number of applications received for employment along with a substantial amount of volunteer interest. We also got increased donations, with people sending small amounts of money from India as well as from far-off countries. More than the money, what mattered was the belief that together we can make a difference in the lives of TB patients and their families, and that Operation ASHA has brought about a paradigm shift in how TB should be treated and is serving patients with kindness and concern.
Concern for the issue of TB has gone up, measured by the amount of phone calls, emails and inquiries received by OpASHA through direct communication and social media. The show contributed greatly to people’s desire to understand better and take more seriously the concept of tuberculosis.
So what have we done?
- Answered patients’ queries
- Discussed difficult cases with our TB experts and given the right advice
- Helped people cope with the trauma of having TB patients in their family
- Connected TB patients to our own health workers for free diagnosis and treatment
- Connected TB patients to the government programme in areas where we don’t work
- Helped de-stigmatize TB
- Provided food to TB patients
- Extensively counselled patients of MDR TB
On social media too, viewers responded very well, gaining a better understanding of tuberculosis as an infectious disease and ultimately understanding better how much of an issue it is for India through Satyamev Jayate. OpASHA was able to witness this interest first hand via a Twitter chat in which we were able to engage with viewers firsthand in the very important conversation surrounding TB in India.
TB is a disease that is 5,000 years old, yet we have 90 lakh new cases in the world each year. India's track record has been dismal, bearing one-fourth of the world’s TB burden, and an exponential rise in drug-resistant forms. Unfortunately, TB is widely known as a poor man’s disease, so many are not bothered, the world looks the other way, and lakhs continue to suffer and die. If each one of us could support the treatment of just ONE TB patient, that will be the next vital and urgent step towards TB eradication. Do join Operation ASHA in this fight. Visit www.opasha.org or click here to know how you can get involved.