Mr Modi, I’m tempted to say,”We told you so.”
India has had more than a few “I told you so!” moments at the 47th Union World Conference on Lung Health. For years now, the TB sector in India has been cautioning the government on the dangers of neglecting, or providing inadequate support, or even ignoring implementation gaps in TB control in India. The Government of India, much in the way of an impetuous, headstrong teenager, has ignored all these warnings. It has sat back complacently, happy it has a TB control programme in place and the budgets for it, regardless of how it is working on the ground. And today, on the world stage, it’s all in the open. The gaps are rearing their ugly heads for the world to see. The figures are not important; they are oft quoted. But they are also not healthy. The recently released Global TB Report 2016 strengthens the argument.
Every session at the conference be it the opening ceremony, the plenaries, or the side events, have invariably reminded us Indians in the audience that we need to do something about the very unhealthy figures for TB in India. It doesn’t matter that arguably the biggest star in the world today, Mr Amitabh Bachchan made an impassioned plea (through a video message which was played at the inaugural) for TB control, and made us all proud for the passion he infused into it. We were reminded we had the most TB infected people in the world. It doesn’t matter we are one of the fastest growing economies and the back office of the world for the banking, insurance, healthcare and other sectors. We were reminded we have the largest number of people dying of TB in the world. It doesn’t matter we have demonstrated commitment by providing budgets for a TB control programme, provided for MDR-TB patients to get free medication and said and done all the right things. We were constantly reminded that we were contributing to the reasons for why TB was not ‘going away’ fast enough. The world cried SHAME!
Should we be bothered? I think yes. It doesn’t matter how rich we are or how productive we are as a nation. If we are contributing to death and disease and avoidable suffering in the world, and in our own country, we need to cry SHAME as well.Why, I want to ask, is our Health Minister not here to reassure the world that we are as worried about TB in India as they are? Why has he not carried a national commitment that we will pursue TB control with the same passion that we pursue the ‘Make in India’ programme or the climate change agenda or any other? To make all these possible we need a healthy population and it begins with public health.
TB is a communicable, airborne disease and we are ‘making’ a lot of it in India. And spreading it around. I don’t care for figures; they don’t make as much sense to me as the story of Kishanlal, who died of TB needlessly. He was the main protagonist of the play staged by the Axshya Project at the Community Common.
Kishanlal was a character in the play, and yet, he should not have died. So also thousands of others who are really dying in India simply because we have not got our act together as yet. I am deliberately avoiding quoting data because I am tired of data. Show me some faces who have overcome. Show me some faces who got help when they needed it. Show me that every person who needed help to overcome TB got it! Come on India, you can ‘Make health in India’.
I am putting this responsibility at Mr Modi’s doorstep simply because he has shown us hope by not sleeping his way through his tenure. His enthusiasm enthuses me and I am sure that his personal intervention will make a difference to the TB situation in India. Am I thinking right Mr Modi? Will you come true on your promises, broken as they are for now?
The views expressed here are solely of the author.