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Himachal empowers TB patients, lends them voice

Government gives platform to TB patients at district level to share problems and gaps in system

Archana Phull | Shimla |

Hitherto isolated in their struggle against Tuberculosis owing to stigma, the TB patients in Himachal Pradesh are in for some relief, with the state government now empowering them with a platform to raise their voice.

The state has formed District TB Forums, a representative committee of administration, health officials, social activists and TB survivors or patients, which will strengthen feedback mechanism to remove hurdles in handling this infectious disease and will give a push Revised National Tuberculosis Programme (RNTCP).

“The TB patients, who may earlier be facing some hardships for gaps in the system and services for various reasons, can now raise their grievances in the District Forum meeting and give an insight to officials and social activists to work on them for solution. They can tell us if the medicines are now available, or they are being asked to give money for medicine or any other problem of accessibility to treatment or stigma,” said Dr RK Sood, District TB Officer, Kangra.

Kangra district was the first one in the state to hold a meeting of newly constituted District TB Forum in Dharamshala on 28 December.

The meeting was chaired by Additional District Magistrate (ADM), Kangra, Mast Ram Bhardwaj, with TB survivors, including People Living with HIV, also a part of it.

Only two TB survivors or patients out of five members attended meeting in Kangra, as many patients or even survivors find it difficult to beat the social stigma, which is also one of the reasons for lesser detection of the disease, especially in case of women.

Chief Medical Officer, Kangra Dr GD Gupta shared that in Himachal Pradesh, around 16000 TB cases were reported in 2018, which in Kangra, the biggest district housing one fourth of state’s population, this number is 3358.

As per records, around 550 persons die due to TB in Himachal in a year, which is higher than many other diseases. The number of Drug Resistant (DR) TB cases in a year are around 500.

RNTCP is, however, being implemented aggressively in hill state, there have been inherent problems in the programme right from tough terrain resulting in inaccessibility to health care services in routine. The linkages worked out to run the RNTCP too have complicated the programme implementation.

Unawareness about this communicable but curable disease apart, many people suffering from TB continue to struggle due to gaps in the system, services and social stigma.

The treatment of TB patients is totally free and there is a system of tracking their compliance to daily medication with technology. The TB patients are given Rs 1,000 each during their treatment bi-monthly for nutritional supplements.

Normally, the TB patients come to health institutions on their own. For two years, the state has been conducting a special drive twice in a year for active finding of TB cases through door to door survey for a fortnight. Earlier, the funding for this active case finding, which gives a push to detection, was given by the Government of India.

Of late, the Himachal Pradesh government has kept provision for this in state budget under the banner ‘TB Mukt Himachal Abhiyaan’ and the drive is taken up across the state in first fortnight of January.