Ignorance leads to TB spreading in Assam’s tea gardens

Tezpur:Tuberculosis (TB) has become a major problem in Assam’s tea gardens, often leading to the death of workers. Expe-rts say ignorance among workers and poor manage-ment response are to blame.
The disease affects nearly 40 percent of the tea workers and doctors say the situation is going from bad to worse.According to R.N. Roy, district TB officer (under the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Pro-gramme) in Sonitpur, there has been no significant improvement in the status of TB among the tea garden workers over the years mainly because of “ignorance” and “no management support”.
“TB is a big problem (in the tea gardens). But there has been no significant improvement in the situation over the years. From 2005 until today, the data has been more or less the same. There has been no control over the spread of infection because proper preventive measures are not taken,” Roy told IANS.
Of the 8.6 million cases globally, 2.2 million cases are in India – the country with the world’s highest TB burden. According to Roy, if one looks at the numbers of registered cases in the tea gardens, 30-40 percent of the workers in every tea estate are affected by TB.
“But what is even more worrisome is that drug resistant TB is now beco-ming common. Almost 80 percent of all drug resistant TB cases come from the tea estates,” Raoy pointed out.
Although the WHO-recommended Directly Observed Treatment, Short Course programme, relaun-ched as the Revised Natio-nal TB Control Programme, has achieved success, leading to a slight decline in numbers, experts say that HIV co-infection and multidrug-resistant TB  are adding a new dimension and keeping the numbers high.
Mintu Phukan, a doctor in one of Sonitpur district’s tea estates, told IANS: “TB is a serious health concern and despite being curable, people continue to die because of it.” “Since it is highly contagious it is difficult for family members of a patient to escape it unless they are very careful. In tea garden workers’ colonies, overcrowding and unhygienic living condition aid the spread of the infection, and ignorance further fuels it.”
Rajeev Sharma, another doctor, agreed. “Over-crowding is a major factor for the spread of infection. The workers live in one-bedroom houses with big families…since TB is conta-gious, family members of a patient immediately become vulnerable. Plus the level of awareness is low, so the patient is not isolated,” Sharma told IANS.
Phukan said that while most tea garden hospitals are equipped to provide treatment, the management can do more to control the problem. Another doctor said: “Better housing facilities, proper drainage and better living conditions can go a long way in improving the situation in the tea gardens.”
“But not enough is being done. There is pressure on plantation managers to increase productivity and cut costs, and in the bargain, medical expenditure always get the axe first.”
Most of the tea garden workers in Assam are adivasis, or tribals, who hail from Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal, whose ancestors were brought to work in the plantations by the British more than a century ago.(IANS)

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