NEW DELHI: For domestic worker Nusrat (name changed), her daily chores to support a family of three children and two sets of parents are a must despite she being in need of rest due to Tuberculosis (TB).
In August, the 29-year-old migrant from Bihar started getting Rs 500 per month for nutritional support, thanks to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s Nikshay Poshan Yojana announced in the Union budget last year.
“The direct cash transfer meant I had about Rs 20 per day from the government, but that money can get me only an apple a day. What does that mean in our lives?” Nusrat added, as she frantically scrubbed the floor at one of her employers’ flats in Andheri East.
Her predicament sums up the helplessness of TB patients from the economically weak section, who can neither take rest nor afford proper diet and nutrition to recover from a disease that affects nearly 2.8 million Indians.
“Undernutrition in my view is the biggest challenge for TB in India, perhaps even more than drug resistance, as it is directly related to backwardness,” said Yogesh Jain of NGO Jan Swasthya Sahyog, who is working for TB control in Chhattisgarh.
“The government’s scheme to provide Rs 500 as nutritional support to TB patients is yet another ‘Jumla’ (rhetoric) and tokenism. The scheme exposes the seriousness it pretends to have towards such a major public health issue concerning millions.”
In fact, the scheme under the Centre’s Revised National TB Control Programme has reached to just about 80,000 of the total 2.8 million TB patients, so far. The amount is so low that, experts claimed, it hardly “serves any meaningful purpose”.
A senior official of the Revised National TB Control Programme said the annual Rs 600 crore-allocation for the scheme was earmarked after a “long-standing demand” by TB activists. The official admitted that so far, the scheme has not reached out to a significant number of TB patients.
“A majority of the patients are unaware of the scheme, or are not that enthused to share bank account details as the amount of Rs 500 is not much,” he conceded.
Jain claimed Tamil Nadu gives more money to TB patients for nutritional support than this “eyewash” of a scheme that the Centre had announced on April 1.
In Chhattisgarh, he claimed, his organisation’s efforts prompted the state government to provide extra food to TB patients from lower socio-economic families through the Public Distribution System (PDS) in 2012. Four years on, he said, it was further upgraded and these families started getting high-nutrition food packets through the PDS.
Narges Mistry of Mumbai-based Foundation of Medical Research asserted that several studies have shown that without adequate nutritional support, even the best TB treatment cannot cure patients.
No wonder that Chapal Mehra of Survivors Against TB (SATB) along with several other members of the group had written a letter to the PM earlier in October, seeking a revision in financial support under the scheme.
“It is critical that the government considers increasing this amount to Rs 2,000 so that it can at least cover the monthly food costs,” the SATB said.