Densely populated minority inhabited and tea garden areas have become most vulnerable to TB in Assam. “We need to expedite tests, especially in areas like the riverine belt where human habitations are densely populated. Tea gardens are equally vulnerable as the labourers work in close proximity,” said Avijit Basu, joint director and state TB officer, department of health services.
He was speaking at a media roundtable discussion, hosted jointly by the State TB Cell, Assam government, and KHPT titled, “Winning the Battle Against TB: Adopting a Community-based Approach to Behaviour Change”, organized here on Wednesday. He said while about 400 tests are being conducted currently among one lakh people, it may not reveal the actual picture of TB prevalence across districts. Basu said considering large scale arrival of workers in capital Guwahati, higher TB infections have been recorded in Kamrup (Metro) district.
Dhrubajyoti Deka, Regional Technical Lead – World Health Organisation, echoed these views and felt that the media must not only inform but “educate and help address issues of stigma which is a major cause for TB remaining undetected. We need focused strategies and to look at the problem holistically, addressing emotional and mental health issues as well”.
KHPT’s USAID-supported TB project, Breaking the Barriers (BTB) aims at working towards accelerating TB-free India. The project seeks to fill the critical gap in addressing TB among the vulnerable population. The programme runs specific geographies across four states — Bihar, Telangana, Karnataka and Assam — strategically targeting the most vulnerable groups such as the urban vulnerable, tribals, mining and industrial workers, tea garden workers and migrants.
Rehana Begam, programme director, KHPT, said the project began with foundational activities which included conducting a primary behavioural study to assess and dive into the contexts, barriers, and other nuances surrounding the populations, including the barriers that enhance their vulnerability to TB. Following this, a mapping exercise was undertaken to identify the vulnerable clusters to implement the planned initiatives and second, development of behavioural change solutions to address various barriers to access, health-seeking, treatment.
The World Health Organization reports that India bears about one-quarter of the world’s TB burden, with TB killing close to half a million people in India every year. Earlier this year, the Assam government announced the commendable goal of reducing the tuberculosis infection rate from 217 per lakh in 2015 to 44 per lakh by 2025 under the ongoing National Tuberculosis Elimination Programme (NTEP).