A man sold the dry straw of the thatched roof of his house in a Banda village so that his father, who was suffering from TB, could get treatment, but to no avail as the patient died of the dreaded disease recently. The deceased belonged to Attara block in Banda district of Bundelkhand.
A patient with Covid-19 symptoms was brought to Ram Manohar Lohia Institute of Medical Sciences in Lucknow last week. He was also suffering from TB and his lungs were in a poor shape. He died within 24 hours of admission to the hospital.
These are not solitary cases as TB and HIV patients have been the prime victims during the unlock period.
Manohar and Rajkumar, two TB patients who died on Sunday, belonged to Kuchbandiyas caste (untouchables) and lived in Kherwa village in Banda. The villagers detest interacting with the Kuchbandiyas even under normal circumstance; the fear of coronavirus has added to their ostracisation.
Ramesh, son of Raj Kumar, said that they do not have anything to eat. “My father had been eating only once a day despite being a TB patient. I sold the straw of our thatched roof so that I could get medicines for my father, but that did not help,” he recalled.
TB patients need nutritious food but during the Covid lockdown and subsequent unlock period, the supply chain snapped. “Go to any village of Bundelkhand and you will find TB patients. They are dying because they are not getting food and are also missing out on the medicines that they are supposed to take regularly,” Raja Bhaiya of Vidya Dham Samiti said. “Doctors are talking about corona but what about TB patients? Almost everyday, 4-5 people are dying of TB in villages,” he said.
Incidentally, the government does not have any record as to how many people have died of TB from March 25 till date. “We are compiling the data,” a senior official, requesting anonymity, said.
The government pays Rs 500 as sustenance allowance to TB patients and officials have no information regarding its impact.
Dr Suryakant, head of the department of Respiratory Medicine at King George’s Medical University, said any person with compromised lungs is vulnerable to coronavirus infection. People having TB need to take more precautions during this period, he said.
“TB is the leading killer and around 4.35 lakh people die of this disease every year. On an average, over 1,000 people die of TB, everyday,” he pointed out.
Over 28 million cases of tuberculosis were there in India before Covid-19 happened. Once people are diagnosed with TB, they are notified as being part of India’s National Tuberculosis Elimination Programme. Protocol mandates that community health workers follow up on the notified patients, making sure that they consume their medicines and show up for scheduled appointments at the tuberculosis unit for health check-ups and to collect medicines.
But the lockdown has resulted in a significant disruption of this system. Patients have been unable to travel to clinics. “We have asked TB health workers not to compromise and conduct tests for both TB and Covid. The primary symptom of both the diseases is the same. In TB, the cough is accompanied by sputum while in case of Covid-19, it is dry cough. Otherwise, both the patients have fever. In case of Covid-19, the patients develop bodyache which they cannot hide,” Dr Suryakant pointed out.