When the Prime Minister addressed the nation on March 24, he missed out on an opportunity. It was the World TB Day. Not many in India pay attention to the Day though, despite the disease killing a thousand Indians daily.
But this year there was an additional reason to remember it. People suffering from the disease and with other ailments affecting the lungs and the heart are more vulnerable to coronavirus. India is also the diabetes capital of the world and diabetics too are more likely to succumb to the virus.
Tuberculosis is believed to be a disease of the poor, which is not strictly true. But after battling the disease for centuries, people seem resigned to it. And because it affects the poor, pharmaceutical companies too have evinced little interest to champion the cause of TB.
But now, in the wake of coronavirus, the rich have a stake for the first time in paying attention to Tuberculosis. A poor man with TB will carry on working and running errands at airports, stations, malls and homes, catch the virus and infect others in the vicinity. Tuberculosis is not an infectious disease but a TB patient with coronavirus could be deadly to the others.
The PM, in his next televised address, would do well to address the issue. Diseases like malaria, encephalitis, those related to heart and kidney failure etc. are often fatal. When the TB Eradication Programme has failed to achieve its objective, COVID-19 has, in a way, come as a blessing in disguise. Because testing for Coronavirus could also lead to early detection of TB.
March 24, 2020 provided an opportunity to explain this link between Coronavirus and TB. The PM missed it. We shouldn’t.