Healthy Memphis: Local Rotary contributes to global TB battle – Commercial Appeal

As I write this, I am on a flight back from India after a weeklong medical mission trip for a Rotary Club Global Grant on the elimination of tuberculosis (TB). In America, we don’t worry about TB because it is one of our many medical success stories, along with smallpox and polio.

But across the world today TB kills 1.5 million people and sickens 9 million each year. From my trips, what I have learned is that we, in America, have controlled or eliminated many infectious diseases and that we can and must help other nations reach that same goal.

While technical assistance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and international funding is critical, involvement of social service organizations can make a huge impact.

Take, for example, the Rotary International’s effort to eliminate polio. It was in 1978 when Rotary first identified polio as a priority service activity. Then, in 1981, it made it’s goal of immunizing all children against polio by 2005, when Rotary would celebrate it’s 100th anniversary.

In its effort, Rotary raised millions of dollars and made polio elimination its goal. Today no one can talk about the successful polio elimination in India without mentioning the effort by Rotary clubs in India and oversees.

The purpose of my visit and our global grant is to pilot programs that would work toward eliminating TB in India in a similar manner. The grant is partially funded by the Rotary Club of Germantown with leadership from Rotarian Vijay Surpriya.

In my visits to the slums two years ago, I met with one man, Pudilik Akaram Atkar, a 60-year-old painter with a weathered face who drank more than he worked. He was sitting crouched in the sun outside his mud-laden one room shack which housed four other family members. TB thrives in these settings.

He told me he was diagnosed with TB years earlier and he finally started taking medicine two months ago and then stopped because the medicines were making him ill. “It is the alcohol” — a neighbor listening the conversation piped in. A brief argument ensued.

I notified the government TB workers and they restarted his treatment. Last year, when I visited Pudilik’s home, his wife was in mourning. He had just died 4 days earlier due to liver failure from his alcohol. His son, in his twenties, was managing the house.

TB, unlike polio, is more a socio-economic problem rather than a purely biomedical problem. The challenge with TB is that it is not just a few drops of oral vaccine that is needed but rather a long, stringent treatment regiment with close follow up and infection control measures.

In the first phase of the Rotary TB project, we are working to increase awareness about TB to vulnerable populations. In just six months, we have visited 104 schools educating 18,000 students. Our goal is that one person in each home in the selected slums must know the symptoms of TB (cough more than 2 weeks, fever and weight loss). We have also conducted 216 slum visits with local Rotarians in India, interacting with more than 40,000 people.

The work will not be easy but a pilot project funded by our local Rotary can guide a national project. What is commendable is that we are concerned and caring and are working to help eliminate diseases so far away.

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Source : Commercial Appeal