Aptly titled, the TED Talk discusses India’s TB problem terming it India’s biggest public health problem. This claim is borne by statistics as India houses the largest number of TB patients in the world and has the most TB deaths globally. It kills 1 Indian every minute a statistic unchanged over the decades. TB costs India US $ 24 billion annually.
Using Salma’s story – one of his earliest Totally Drug Resistant (TDR) TB cases, Udwadia illustrates the numerous challenges patients face while fighting TB in India. Salma, who did not survive the disease, spent months desperately trying to cure herself; travelling across two states, accessing government clinics and several private physicians. She received multiple drugs in various combinations.
In the end, Salma was resistant to every single one of those drugs. She died two days after surgery, “therapeutically destitute from a virtually untreatable form of TB”.
“What could be more soul destroying than taking five years of treatment but finding yourself getting worse not better? Drug resistant TB is a collective indictment of us all. The tests that are too slow, the drugs that are too toxic, the government program: underfunded and inefficient, the private doctors doling out drugs but no compassion, and no science and at the macro level failures of public health policy, for of all the ills that kill the poor, none is as effective as bad government and poverty,” says Zarir, concluding that the responsibility for cases like Salma is collective.
The talk, the first, and only one on this subject, combines defining data, science, global and Indian statistics and policy solutions to bring attention to this issue. Zarir reminds all stakeholders that TB remains neglected and ignored, especially in India.
“Forget your bullet trains PM Modi. Give us the new drugs we need to treat, give us the labs and tests to diagnose early, give us more funds not more cuts in the TB budget. Give us social change, because TB is the perfect expression of an imperfect civilization,” says Zarir outlining what India desperately needs to do address TB.
The talk, released two days before World TB Day, is timed to bring greater attention to the urgent need to address TB in India across stakeholders. “Every death from TB is an avoidable tragedy. It is our task to reverse the tide,” he says concluding the talk with a call for action to fight TB in India.