Let's Work Together to Stop TB
By Rabiya Sahibzada

March 27, 2009
He looked pretty healthy to me. It was hard to believe that this 19 year old boy was suffering from TB and weighed only 48 kg. I had decided to interview this acquaintance for my article on TB, a chronic disease in the lungs which is not only dangerous to the sufferer but to the people around him as well. In 2005, TB killed 1.6 million people and over half of these deaths occurred in Asia. I didn’t even know that. I didn’t know that one third of the world population already suffered from this deadly disease.
“Ignorance is bliss.” As my friend launched into the symptoms of TB, how his nose bled and blood appeared in his spit, I thought over this idiom again and again. “Ignorance is bliss.” It was so much easier to make fun of this boy, his lack of interest in sports or any other activity. I used to think of his as a lacking personality. Only it was different. It was a lack of good health. A lack of breath. and there I was, a few weeks back rolling my eyes at him, not knowing that the obvious reason he did not indulge himself in many activities was because he had been suffering from TB. But now, he was better after one whole year of medication, bed rest and caution. And I was glad that he was telling me about his much painful experience with such laudable ease.
Having been his grandfather’s favourite among all his brothers, he would return from school and the first thing he would do since a child, would be to jump in his grandfather’s arms. Who I’m afraid was a heavy smoker. Sadly, it resulted in Tuberculosis and caused his grandfather to give his life. My friend joked about it to keep the mood light, telling me how his grandfather left him to suffer the consequences of his smoking. But I could not smile. It was anything but amusing.
Being left alone in my own room with my own things, away from society for even a month can turn me into an eccentric. I wondered how he tolerated it. But he did. To protect himself as well as others, because being exposed to his things could cause the disease to spread. His family was educated. They were well off, able to afford such expensive medication. The six month rounds of anti biotic. I recall his answer when I inquired about the cure, “TB cannot be cured without medicine and scans and X rays. All of which are very costly and unless you have money in your pockets, it destroys your life”
His parents had lost hope in the beginning. He had too, since it was so severe. There were lots of tears and depressions and the worst thing about it, he confessed, was to be shunned from the world. Physically restricted and mentally inhibited. But he was an optimist and pulled through just fine; so much that he started to come to school and even travel a little bit. Obviously he was dependent on his father and family, but his faith in Allah was strengthened a multitude.
I thanked him with utmost gratitude and wandered into the ground with a lot of visions on my mind. Drips; Pills; Blackened hands, hospital smells, and mostly the question of how we could stop such a dreadful disease.
Those who could pay for check ups were not the problem. It was the other half of the society. The one that was ignorant of the disease. I closed my eyes, imagining a Pakistan free of TB. The government and private sectors had opened new and improved hospitals and clinics with minimum fees for those who were in need. There were patrols of doctors in every province, just like there are for polio to track the affected and treat them accordingly. Free check up was allowed as laboratories were funded by the business class and charity was provided to the NGOs.
Strict laws had been enforced regarding smoking. Cigarettes were banned in small shops and smokers were to be fined in public to set a good example. The craze of doing sheesha in elite classes had been discouraged. There were movies, television programs and advertisements to promote anti smoking. Medicines which cured TB were manufactured in higher amounts in Pakistan rather than being imported from other countries. Rehabilitation centers had been set up in every nook and corner of Pakistan.
All equipment in health care units was sterilized. Seminars were being held, books were being written, pamphlets were being distributed and even the regular maid knew that if she was feverish, had swollen glands, was losing weight and appetite and suffering from chest pain she should consult a doctor immediately.
Pakistan had adopted the British program of immunizing the public by vaccination. The targeted groups included health workers, laboratory staff, people who had emigrated from countries where TB was common. The Afghan/Pakistan border was being paid close attention since millions of refugees were prone to illnesses in their meager surroundings.
How I wished for such a Pakistan. Opening my eyes and observing my interviewee from a distance, I admitted that he was weaker. But his friends treated him as a normal healthy person. He had told me with an unforgettable glint in his eye, that one of his companions had never lost touch during the insufferable three years; visiting him and supporting him. Wistfully I thought that by doing the same and by working with dedication, motivation and commitment, we could make our homeland free of TB. We could bring the sparkle back in lots of other Pakistani eyes. And I finally smiled.

Sources: Wikipedia

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