In what seems to be a first, tuberculosis (TB) patients in Assam will be able to avail treatment free of charge on their place of work.
Experts consider tea labourers in Assam to be one of the most at-risk groups for contracting TB. A number of factors are implicated which place these typically impoverished communities at a greater risk of spreading the disease. High levels of consumption of tobacco and locally brewed hooch contribute to overall poor levels of health. Coupled with often unhealthy diets, the community is left with sub-par immune systems.
Close-quarter living environments do little to aid disease prevention. Unsanitary living conditions coupled with high population density allow infectious diseases such as TB to spread almost unchallenged.
For many living in poverty, treatment for conditions such as TB falls to second priority behind issues such as providing enough food for the family to fend off starvation. This is often a necessary act, though places the whole community in danger of contracting TB.
In the apparent first instance of its kind, a private institute in a tea garden estate is to partner with a district tuberculosis control programme in Upper Assam. The Gatoonga Tea Estate in the Jorhat district, which runs the Gatoonga Tea Estate Hospital, in association with the state-run Jorhat district TB Centre, will open a TB diagnostic clinic where patients from the estate can access free treatment.
“This is for the first time that a private health institute in a tea garden will cooperate with a district TB centre to fight the menace of the disease among tea garden labourers,” said Jorhat district tuberculosis officer Bhaktimay Bhattacharyya. “There are seven TB patients in Gatoonga tea estate. The centre will also cater to around sixty patients in and around Gatoonga.”
Temporary workers were found to be a key aspect in spreading the illness. Many were infected during their time working at the tea estates, then spreading the infection further when they leave, heading either to other villages or cities. Grassroots efforts such as this may provide a vital means by which to reduce transmission of TB.
It is hoped that the public-private model may provide the assistance needed to the labourers to rid them of the TB epidemic within the communities. If the concept is successful, it is intended to be implemented in other areas of Assam.