This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How One Woman In Bihar Is Using Her Songs To Spread Awareness About A ‘Forgotten’ Disease

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

By Doctors Without Borders:

Kisto Devi likes to sing. For more than ten years now, Kisto has been using her voice to spread health messages in her community. She is an Accredited Social Health Activist or ASHA, tirelessly reaching out to hundreds of villagers through her songs.

Image source: Sami Siva/Medecins Sans Frontieres
Image source: Sami Siva/Medecins Sans Frontieres

ASHAs, meaning hope in Hindi, are women who are identified, trained and accredited by India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to conduct health screenings and referrals of sick patients to the nearest government health facility at the community level. Their role is to detect and refer those who need immunisations, a health check-up or treatment and are at the forefront of community health service on behalf of the government. Typically, there is one ASHA per 1,000 inhabitants.

We are not medical technicians or specialists, but we know a little about the diseases of this region; for instance we know everything about kala azar,” says Kisto.

Kala Azar, A Forgotten Tropical Disease

Virtually unknown in the developed world, leishmaniasis is a vector-borne parasitic disease that affects more than 12 million people throughout the world today. Visceral leishmaniasis or kala azar is one form of leishmaniasis that is most prevalent in six countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, South Sudan and Sudan. Transmitted by the bite of an infected sand fly, kala azar mainly affects populations with the least resources. The disease weakens the immune system making the patients more susceptible to opportunistic infections. And it’s almost always fatal, if left untreated.

Vaishali is one of the most endemic districts in Bihar, a state known to contribute around 80-90% of the kala azar cases in India. Bihar is also one of the poorest states with a population of more than 100 million.
With the highest endemicity and concentration of people with poor resources, Bihar set the stage for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to intervene and start a kala azar treatment programme in 2007. MSF successfully ran a 50-bed kala azar ward, supported five Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in Vaishali and has treated more than 12,000 kala azar patients, free of cost. From conducting awareness sessions to ensuring rapid diagnosis and treatment for the patients, MSF has partnered with government agencies to ensure that treatment is not only effective, but free for all.

Songs To Remember

To support MSF’s work, Kisto Devi does what she knows best: she scripts songs on kala azar; melodies that are set to popular Bollywood tunes from the 80s and 90s. She tells everything there is to know about the disease – its symptoms, transmission and treatment. When Kisto Devi sings she points to the mud walls, to the buffalos and the dirt around the cowsheds to inform and educate people about the habitat of sand flies.

It is a very practical way to generate awareness about kala azar – without relying on posters, writing, or anything else that are sometimes difficult to understand,” says Chhavi Kumar, a health promoter with MSF.

Kisto has devoted her life to community work. She was trained by MSF and knows all too well the work the organisation has done in Bihar for the past eight years. ASHAs like Kisto not only focus on kala azar but also conduct a range of screenings and referrals. They help pregnant women seek facility-based deliveries, ensure timely vaccinations for infants, screen patients suffering from infectious disease such as tuberculosis, and assist in awareness-building around public health issues, hygiene and sanitation, and ways to access proper treatment and care.

I have known many people who have suffered from kala azar but didn’t know they had the disease. Some thought it was malaria. I help people identify the symptoms correctly and tell them what to do,” says Kisto. “I like singing for them,” she adds with a smile.

Below is MSF’s video that throws light on the kala azar disease and the challenges in treating the same:

You must be to comment.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By Shivang Verma

By Suny Tomar

By KASHVI CHANDOK

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below