Sunday, May 11, 2008 (Varanasi)
Health Minister Ramadoss' penchant for flirting with controversy is well known. But it often sidelines the really important issues that demand his attention.
In Varanasi in the last two months, 15 people have died of tuberculosis - a curable disease. It's a story of failure of the government's much hyped anti-TB programme and its health system.
The disease is curable if treated with medicines and nutritious food. But 14-year-old TB patient Iqbal, was not able to get proper care and food due to abject poverty. And this resulted in his death.
''We are only able to eat one meal in the evenings. This is the way we have to live,'' Iqbal's aunt says.
And ironically, the family is not officially classified as poor and is not entitled to government welfare schemes.
The decline in the weaving industry is linked to the sharp increase in the number of families who have fallen victim to TB. Fifteen people have died in the last two months.
Another TB patient Rahmat Ali is consumed from within, with a bloody cough, fever and wasting. His wife Asghari too has TB. Their 10-year-old son sits on the loom each day and earns Rs 150 a month.
Their main concern is where to get money for the treatment.
If left untreated, each person with active TB disease will infect between 10 and 15 people every year on an average.
Patients like Meera, who has been suffering from TB for three years, is worried about the dangerous strain of multi-drug resistant TB. And she is concerned about the non-availability of nutritious food.
The Centre's TB control programme is 11 years old. And it provides patients free anti-TB drugs. But weavers tell us that the treatment costs them money, since they have to pay for supportive medicines for pan, gastritis and bronchitis.
The government's failure to fill the gaps in the programme has led to drug defaulters. A number of lives are at risk from hunger and TB.
It appears that policymakers have no mechanism to address the crisis of livelihoods, malnutrition and rampant TB.
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