In 2018, Seema Kunchikorne contracted multidrug-resistant pulmonary tuberculosis (MDR-TB). From 65 kg, her weight fell to 45 kg and she sank into depression. Her husband took her to her mother’s house and she was eventually admitted to Sewri TB Hospital.
“I was on oxygen therapy and the doctors had also given up hope. I didn’t give up because of my son, who I hadn’t seen for two years. I pushed myself to eat. In three months in the hospital I gained 8 kg and in 2020 I was declared tuberculosis free, ”Kunchikorne said.
Now divorced, the Dharavi resident is one of 24 TB survivors, which the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), in a one-of-a-kind initiative, hired to counsel other patients to ensure better adherence. to the treatment regimen. Launched in November 2021, the initiative has already yielded an encouraging response by decreasing dropout rates despite the Covid-19 outbreak in Wave 3, officials said.
The volunteers are called “Saksham Sathi” and their job is to ensure better adherence to DOTS treatment, curb dropouts, bring back failers and increase the rate of recovery.
Kunchikorne said her recovery journey made her aware of the unspoken issues facing TB patients, which often affect their mental health and treatment regimen.
“This is a unique initiative taken in India. Tuberculosis survivors are role models for active patients. By talking to them, patients have the belief that they can also be cured of the disease, which can be cured with the appropriate drugs, ”said Dr Pranita Tipre, head of tuberculosis control in Mumbai.
In addition to smart tablets, tuberculosis survivors receive Rs 10,000 per month as part of the initiative, as well as Rs 500 to recharge their devices.
Dr Tipre said that previously many patients refused to give out their bank details for the Rs 500 monthly incentive provided for their nutrition. “These TB survivors are teaching patients the importance of nutrition in their recovery. Thanks to this, we were able to collect the bank details of many patients, ”she added.
A study – assessing the prevalence of depression and its associated factors in tuberculosis patients in Ernakulam district, Kerala – found that one sixth of tuberculosis patients suffer from depression, with the prevalence being higher in patients with tuberculosis. multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.
A person with tuberculosis can develop depression due to several factors such as the long duration of treatment, social stigma and lack of family support, officials said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, another ‘Saksham Sathi’, Yashwant Amrut Marathe, 23, said TB survivors can communicate better with patients because they have faced a similar type of stigma and discrimination .
“To patients who worry about their career gaps due to illness, I share with them my story, how I got over it and how well I am now in my life. We are like their friends who can really relate to them, without giving them false sympathy, ”said the resident of Santa Cruz who contracted tuberculosis in 2017.
Currently, survivors, trained by the civic body, advise patients over the phone.
“Soon we will start community engagement where, alongside the group counseling of patients, we will also involve their loved ones,” said Dr Tipre.