Why does TB not make news?
It’s an old disease! We’ve done too much on TB! This doesn’t work for us! TB? But there’s no reader interest, give us something on AIDS orphans! These are just some of the reactions I’ve got in response to my dogged pursuit of media houses to publish more stories on TB.
The disease may be old but so what? It’s still taking lives. Consider the figures. TB kills about 900 people per day in India, or about two people every three minutes. And each year there are 99,000 cases of multi-drug resistant TB. Nearly five percent of the incident cases there are HIV-positive (David Bryden, Centre for Global Health Policy). TB is easily curable and yet, it hasn’t gone away. TB is not just a disease; it is debatably a much greater social problem than HIV, considering that it spreads with greater ease as it is airborne and has strong linkages to poverty, lack of hygeine, malnutrition and ironically enough, even progress.
Before the brickbats hit me, let me explain. The causes for the spread of TB are too many to go into in a short blog so I’m staying with just one of them. Progress has brought with it a churning among people as it were and like never before, we have rurals migrating to cities in droves in search of better lives and occupations. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to determine what quality of lives awaits them in cities. Equipped with little more than a will to work and earn, what they get in return for leaving their homes and occupations (largely farming), is more poverty than they were used to, dismal living conditions and thereafter, vulnerability to diseases such as TB. More often than not, all they get by way of living spaces is dingy tenements in densely populated slums; a factor that is hugely conducive to the spread of TB.
India has recorded 2 million new cases of TB in 2009. Isn’t it important to know why these cases occured? Isn’t it important to know who these 2 million are and what conditions they are living in? Isn’t it important that TB is the leading cause of death among Indians between the ages of 15 and 45—the most productive age group, and causes the country a staggering US$3 billion in economic losses each year? Isn’t it important to do something about the fact that out of an estimated 1.3 million people who died worldwide of TB in 2008, India accounted for 2.8 lakh lives? If not for anything else, in our scramble to stand up and be counted as an economic superpower, isn’t it important to fix the issues that can actually impede our run to the winning post? Just as a self-serving, selfish move, shouldn’t we be ensuring we have a healthy population before we fall out of the race?
What better way can there be than to start talking about it? Telling the stories? Forcing the powers that be to sit up and think? Is the media listening? TB is an old disease but it has the power to scuttle big plans and ambitions that India has for itself…