Mushalpur/ Guwahati: Anita Boro’s eyes well up as she recounts her ordeal after being detected with tuberculosis, with her husband having nearly abandoned her.

Boro rues that her family had to go through hardships after she was diagnosed with the disease last year, but does not repent that she had made her condition known to everyone.

“People get TB and hide it. I had told everyone when I got it as a precautionary step. And yet, my family and I had to face discrimination,” Boro, a resident of Geruapara village in Assam’s Baksa district, told PTI on the sidelines of a meeting of TB patients and survivors at Adalbari state dispensary.

Although Anita remained completely isolated from her family, her husband, who works as a daily-wager, had difficulty finding a job for several months.

“We struggled to survive. Perhaps, he blamed me and stopped looking after me, she said as tears filled her eyes.

But she hastened to add that her children, especially her 19-year-old daughter, were very supportive and nursed her back to health.

“It has been six months now that I have recovered fully. We are back to leading a normal life,” the 41-year-old, who cycled 4 km in the sweltering heat to the meeting, added.

Stigmatisation of women is more, but men are more vulnerable to TB, said Avijit Basu, state TB officer (STO), department of health services in Assam.

People of the age group of 15 to 60 years is more susceptible to the disease, he added.

Basu said though the TB incidence rate is not very high in the state, Assam has to go a long way in achieving the target of bringing the caseload to less than 44 per lakh population by 2025.

He said the state needs to increase its number of tests for TB from 400 examinations per lakh, done last year, to about 1,500 per lakh population to meet the goal set by the government.

The state had reported 187 cases per lakh last year.

Concurring with Basu, Prasenjit Das, state lead of ‘Breaking the Barriers’ initiative on TB by Karnataka Health Promotion Trust (KHPT), said, “Stigmatisation, especially of women, is a major challenge in the fight against TB. Also, people are reluctant to come forward for voluntary testing even when they have the symptoms of the disease.

He said the KHPT is reaching out to the tribal population in Baksa, urban migrants in Kamrup Metropolitan and tea garden workers in Dibrugarh based on vulnerability mapping carried out by the organisation.

At Baramchari, a few kilometres from Adlabari, around 20 women sat under the shade of trees and discussed progress being made in creating awareness of the disease in their villages.

The KHPT trains mostly women, including ASHA and Anganwadi workers, as ‘community leaders’ through ‘perceptive building workshops’, and they then generate awareness and ensure completion of treatment of the affected, said Lakshajyoti Bhuyan, Baksa district lead, and Dinesh Talukdar, ‘community coordinator’ for Mushlapur TB Unit (TU) of the district.

Rina Rabha, a ‘community leader’ who has detected four TB cases in her eight months of association with the KHPT, said, “There is awareness about the disease now. They are now coming forward and undergoing voluntary examination.”

The incidence of TB is high among urban migrants — another vulnerable group with which the KHPT engages — mostly due to lack of hygiene with alcoholism and tobacco use also contributing to it, claimed Suman Phukan, who has been working as ‘community coordinator’ under Mahendra Mohan Chowdhury Hospital (MMCH) TU in Guwahati in Kamrup Metropolitan district.

The young coordinator who started working for the cause since November pointed towards a man in his late twenties and said, “That is Sonu. He works as a daily wager and lives in Sitlabari area of Guwahati. He was detected with TB but he did not complete his treatment initially and even ran off from a hospital twice.”

“His family and wife abandoned him. But the people here stood by him and with their support, we got him admitted at a hospital some months back. Now he is cured and fit, Phukan stated.

The areas surrounding the famous Kamakhya temple are another vulnerable location identified by the KHPT in Guwahati and they have enlisted help of local women-run Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and youngsters.

“Awareness is the greatest weapon in the fight against TB. We have to make people aware of the disease, its symptoms. And fighting stigmatisation is very vital, for which we have adopted this community-based approach,” summed up Shramana Majumdar, senior manager (knowledge and communication) of KHPT’s Breaking the Barrier programme.

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