journalistsagainsttb

Fusing journalism and TB – telling the stories as they are

When the not-so-poor get TB in India – the paradox

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I thought mistakenly that the poor suffered more when they contracted TB. Facts however, point to a different reality. Without discounting the fact that the poor definitely have more challenges to deal with, with regard to access to treatment, nutritional requirements and loss of work when they are ill, I also have very unpalatable facts to prove that the not-so-poor suffer equally if not more. In addition to the discomfort of suffering from the disease itself, paradoxically, they also, by virtue of being able to afford better care, more often than not, get exploited by doctors in the private healthcare sector.

As a friend recently recounted, on seeking medical advice for a persistent cough and weight loss, he was first peremptorily treated with antibiotics, which did not solve his problem; his condition, on the contrary,worsened to a point when he began to vomit blood and was completely exhausted and unable to work. On seeking help from a renowned chest hospital in Chennai, he was subjected to a series of complicated and expensive tests without being told what the doctors were suspecting. He is indignant when he says, “I reached a point when I was livid with what was being done to me and combined with my deteriorating health, was at my wits end not knowing where to go for help. The doctors could have told me they were out to make money, and yet treated me. I would still have gone along with them because I wanted to get better.” The fact that he had medical insurance made it worse for him because as he says, “I had reason to suspect that the doctors knew I had TB but they just didn’t want to tell me till they had subjected me to all the tests they were recommending as they knew I had medical insurance. After all, they had to put all their diagnostic equipment to use.”

It was then that someone recommended he go to a government hospital that had the RNTCP programme. The doctor there had one look at his chest x-ray and declared his condition as TB and put him on accurate treatment. Now, three years later, he continues to be healthy and active and thanks his stars that he was able to access treatment which helped to cure him. He is however a little regretful that his pockets are somewhat less heavy and he has spent more money than he needed to, simply because he could afford it! This is besides the six months he lost and the avoidable suffering he had to go through.

Even more horrific is the case of the author’s father who developed a slight cough and a pain in the right lower region of his chest. We had access to the best doctors in Bangalore. One of them advised an ultra sound scan and diagnosed his condition as stones in the gallbladder and scheduled a surgery to remove his gallbladder the very next day after the scan result was out. Wisdom prevailed on us and we sought a second opinion. The next doctor advised a chest x-ray and discovered a patch in his lung but could not determine whether it was pneumonia or TB. My father was probably lucky because the treatment prescribed for him worked and he went on to live a healthy life. So healthy in fact that he lived 15 full years and passed away from a heart attack on the golf course after having played 9 holes of golf!

But that was 15 years ago. Nothing much seems to have changed since then as my friend’s case demonstrates. An earlier post in this blog called for more vigilant regulatory systems in India for the private healthcare sector and for more robust and reliable diagnostics for TB. It bears repetition to say this again here. Gullible patients, when they are suffering, have nowhere to turn and have to trust their doctors. But when the fence begins to eat the crop, who can the crop turn to??

Bharathi Ghanashyam

Written by JournalistsAgainstTB

January 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Posted in TB and Media

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