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Fighting tuberculosis in urban Indian slums

Jul 15, 2011

Operation Asha is treating Tuberculosis in urban slum areas through the use of local counsellors to spread awareness and technologies to observe patients on a regular basis. The operation aims to eradicate the disease and its fear among poor patients and their families.



Pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious bacterial infection that involves the lungs, but may spread to other organs. The most common treatment advised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is the Directly Observed Therapy short-course (DOTS).

Experts found out that Tuberculosis patients get frightened when they get to know they have contracted the disease and some go in denial. Suspected cases refuse to get tested. Confirmed patients avoid treatment, because it is time-consuming and costly to actually go to a treatment centre thrice a week. Due to stigma patients hide their disease from families or employers.

In order to mitigate the disease and stop discrimination faced by patients Operation Asha, the largest tuberculosis treatment NGO serving 3.5 million slum dwellers in 13 cities and 4 states, initiated an innovative approach in 2005 to TB treatment. 

Operation Asha has tied up with community members to provide space either in their house or shops (tea stall) to look after patients on a regular basis and provide them medicines. The owner of these spaces are called community DOTS providers and the space is called DOTS treatment centres; they could be shopkeepers, local priests from the community that are willing to support the cause. 

They are given Rs 500 for renting out to Operation Asha. TB treatment centres are convenient to access as they are within walking distance from the patients’ homes. It has supplies of medicinal boxes between six to eight months with the patient’s name, TB number given by the government of India and date of starting the medicine. 

Other provisions include weighing scale, water facilities and disposable glasses. Colour coded boxes contain medicines that are given to TB patients to counter side effects of the treatment. The counsellors are slum dwellers chosen from the society. They are stationed at the centres for six hours every day to support TB patients and a permanent member is available to dispense medicines at any time of the day and night. 

They also educate the community and families of TB patients about the disease being curable provided they get full treatment. Moreover, they also track patients that haven’t taken medicines via biometric attendance system and visit their homes personally to give them dosage.To date Operation Asha has fully treated 10,000 persons with services free of cost.

Operation Asha focused on Tuberculosis treatment as India has one fourth of the world’s cases and 2 million new cases a year, even though it is curable.

Years of experience in treating patients from urban slums helped the president of the NGO to understand the patients’ background and psyche. Another reason for choosing Tuberculosis was that it is one of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, therefore a lot of infrastructure (diagnostics), physicians’ consultation, medicines are provided free of cost from the World Health Organisation and the government.

The organisation is moving forward in spreading TB awareness with its community based efforts and supervising patients’ treatment at the local level. With similar level of commitment and dedication to the cause, we can hope Operation Asha to alleviate the poor from this deadly disease.

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