Young Nandita Venkatesan, a TB survivor, got the undivided attention of the assembled District Governors at the seminar ‘Towards a TB-free India’ presided over by PRID Yash Pal Das, when she compared the huge lesions in her stomach to a monstrous “Kattappa. You have a devil, a Kattappa sitting in your stomach, a devil you can’t even see.” The seminar was organised by Rotary India National TB Control and Awareness Committee in partnership with the International Union for Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.
Describing her marathon 18-month battle with TB not once, but twice, Nandita said she had undergone six surgeries, was swallowing 15 different medicines daily, all to no avail. “It was an endless nightmare; I was in hospital for three months battling between life and death. I would cry continuously for 12 hours out of sheer physical pain. I lost 80 per cent of my hearing due to some medication and now I am 90–95 per cent deaf in both my ears.”
It was an endless nightmare; I was in hospital for three months battling between life and death. I would cry continuously for 12 hours out of sheer physical pain.
— TB survivor Nandita Venkatesan
Her battle with tuberculosis pushed her into depression at “the prime of my life. I was only 23.” And everybody, including her doctors, advised her not to talk about her ailment to anyone as she would be shunned. Finally, in 2015 she opened up, realising that she would have to interact with other survivors. Soon she started counselling them, discussing the side effects of the TB drugs being given to them. More than anything else, she added, all TB survivors should be counselled on the need to speak up, as anyone, not necessarily the poor, can get TB.
Today she is working as a journalist.
At the event, specially convened for the 2017–18 District Governors, PRID Das, who is Chair of the Rotary TB Control Committee, sought the commitment of the DGs to spread TB awareness and work for a TB-free India, joining hands with the Government of India to make the country TB-free by 2025. He urged them to designate one or two persons in the district who were interested in working on spreading TB awareness.
RI Director C Basker, Dr Jamie Tonsing, Regional Director of the Union for South East Asia, Dr Reuben of USAID, Dr Nishant Kumar from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Arun Kumar Jha, Economic Advisor, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, addressed the gathering to sensitise the participants on the dreadful disease of TB which is preventable and curable.
An alarming find from the meet was that India harbours 25 per cent of global TB patients, and every minute a person dies because of TB in India.
To bring home the message that TB is curable and medicines are provided free of cost, along with Nandita, Saurabh Rane shared his experience in contracting and overcoming the disease.
Shiva Shrestha, Advocacy and Partnership Officer from the Union spoke of the Union’s partnership with the Rotary India TB Control Committee and how this partnership which has no financial commitment from either side has progressed over the last one year to spread awareness on TB.
Video clips of Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan, himself a TB survivor, who is now a brand ambassador for a TB-free India were played.
D 3190 DG Asha Prasanna Kumar requested PRID Das to devise a programme akin to the Pulse Polio NID, designating a few days a year to focus on TB awareness. D 3141 DG Prafull Sharma said he would take help from PDG Subhash Kulkarni and added, “we are planning to work in the slum areas to spread awareness on TB.”
Pictures by K Vishwanathan