By Louise Holly
Following an early start and a ten hour flight, our delegation has arrived in Mumbai for what we hope will be a good night’s sleep before we begin our programme of activities on Monday morning.
Soon after boarding the plane we were handed a health screening card to complete. The Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare require all visitors from countries that have reported cases of Swine Flu to declare any flu-like symptoms they have had in the last 10 days and contact passengers have had with other carriers of the virus.
India is home to more than 1.2 billion people, around 16% of the world’s population. Avoiding major outbreaks of a highly infectious disease like Swine Flu in such a densely populated country is rightly a high priority for the Indian Government.
Our fact-finding trip to India will focus on other health challenges, however. Whilst Swine Flu thankfully remains under control at present, other diseases are already taking a devastating toll, particularly on India’s poorest communities.
Tuberculosis (TB) kills more adults in India than any other infectious disease. Around 1,000 people die every day – almost one death every ninety seconds – making India the highest TB burden country in the world. TB remains a major barrier to social and economic development. An estimated 100 million workdays are lost due to illness and the country incurs a huge cost due to TB—nearly US$ 3 billion in indirect costs and US$ 300 million in direct costs.
Yesterday, the media reported controversy surrounding the death of a Slumdog Millionaire actor’s father from TB. Azhar Ismail had allegedly been turned away from a Mumbai hospital because he posed a risk to other patients. If the father of one of the most high profile children in India can die from a preventable and treatable disease then what hope is there for the millions more infected with TB?
During our four-day visit to India, we will be learning about the progress that India has made in scaling up its National TB Programme and how it is dealing with the additional burden caused by TB-HIV co-infection and multi-drug resistant TB. We will also be looking at interrelated health challenges that affect the poor such as those caused by lack of access to adequate sanitation and clean water.
As we visit programmes and talk to people on the ground involved in the fight against diseases of poverty we’ll report back our findings and reflections. Although our trip has began with a tragic reminder of TB’s impact in India, we hope there will also be positive stories to share.