Saturday, 23 March 2013

TB dreams

There are a lot of things in the world to be scared about.

When I was in 5th standard we were all gripped by 'sky-lab fever' for a few weeks.   It was 1979 and the 'sky-lab' - a spent US space-station - was slowly being drawn to the earth.  This massive object was supposed fall somewhere in a very broad span of the inhabited world (which included India) and woe be it - if it chose to fall on you!  And so we had 'sky-lab drill' at school where we all dutifully hid under our desks - to protect us in case the blessed chunk of space-junk decided to fall on us.  How we were going to be warned about then the fine space-craft was about to hit our school was another issue.  In the end the sky-lab "fell" on a fairly sparsely populated part of Australia.  So much for our fears.

Diseases are pretty high up on the list of things to be scared about.  The issue that takes up a lot of our lives is HIV - a name that still strikes fear in the heart of many.   But having worked with it for the past 15 odd years, it has lost most of its sting.

What I am concerned about is this:

Our work brings us in almost daily contact with men and women who have tuberculosis.   India has the largest number of people with TB.  India has one of the largest (and certainly cheapest) pharmaceutical industries in the world.  Drugs are sold left right and centre.  Its a deadly cocktail.

TB is a disease that takes a long time to cure... fully.    A relative of leprosy, the Mycobacertium tuberculae has a strong waxy coating that makes it hard for drugs to fully eradicate it in a short time period.  Hence the very long treatments which are the whole reason for the problem.

No one likes taking meds.  Especially ones that can have side effects.  Especially when you start feeling better.

And so we have a huge number of people who are taking their TB meds ... and stopping them before they are fully better.  A fool-proof recipe for drug-resistance to form.  And that is where we are today.

We had a prayer session at Jeevan Sahara today - talking about challenging families we are working with.  So many were ones where they have stopped their meds.  Some are ones where they know they have multi-drug resistant TB.

Our staff are heroic enough to go to each one of these homes.  But understand this - there are men who are so fed-up with life and with the medications, that they refuse to take the drugs anymore.  What do we do?  Do we stop going to try and help these families?  What about their wives and children?

We have no easy answers.  We do not want to give in to fear.  And so we pray.  Hard.  And go.

Likewise at the JSK centre.  We have people coming here who we know have Multi-drug resistant TB.  There is every possiblitity that they can spread it to us.  Masks help a bit.  But are not guaranteed.

And yet these dear ones are our brothers and sisters.  This is why we are here in the first place.

Tomorrow is World TB day.  We dream of a day when we refer to TB in the past tense.  We are nowhere near that today.  At least in India.  At least among people who have HIV.  And their families and care-givers.

Pray. Act. Pray. Act. Pray. Act.

For You
Kiran Kumari
Oil on Canvas
50" X 40"

A man is on the floor suffering from TB. Outside somebody is coming to help him. This person may be his relative, a doctor, a friend. Or he may be the patient's belief in God, his positive thinking, confidence, etc. Yellow for me is the colour of hope. Much of my art work has to do with street lights, symbols of solitude, loneliness, and stillness.
 From:  Chehera - The Human Face of TB - an exhibition of art on the issue of people living with TB which the Art for Change Foundation organised together with Global Health Advocates in 2011.

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