Can technology help India fight tuberculosis

By Keyuri Bhanushali

Published on 12, September, 2018

Tuberculosis (TB) is India’s ticking time bomb. Yet, there is not much awareness about the disease and its symptoms. Also, there is a taboo attached with the name ‘TB’. With this pace, it would not be wrong to say that we have seedlings of an epidemic on our hands. It kills 1400 Indians every day and costs India close to 24 billion each year.

In India, specifically, TB is an all pervasive threat. Yet, most Indians have little understanding of it. For the technology -obsessed India, it’s confusing to understand, why technology based interventions are not being used for disease awareness and improved care? Despite the fact that TB has gripped India, a majority of Indians don’t know the symptoms well enough or how to seek diagnosis and treatment. What’s worse is the fact that the emergence of drug-resistant strains of TB has made the situation more challenging.

The most fundamental way to approach technology in controlling the spread of TB and raising awareness about TB is to use recent advances in mobile computing, mobile communications and broadband internet. Talking TB or टीबी पे चर्चा is one of the finest examples of this. It is India’s first multilingual Patient Education Programme –meant to educate and inform TB patients and their families - currently in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and Malayalam. But now the question arises, do educational programs work? The point is that they do - when those are created in recipients’ own language, are inspirational and accessible to even those who can’t read. This is why this program comprises a set of films and an app called Talking TB to help users easily access information on TB.

The programme is unique because it features actual TB survivors providing information on TB, in their local languages based on their own experiences. It fulfils the critical information gap for patients and makes life easier for health workers and doctors. The films and information are on issues such as treatment, nutrition, management of side effects and stigma. All these issues were identified by people like me, who have either defeated TB or are still battling it.

This programme addresses the massive gap of information in India’s TB landscape and allows TB affected individuals and their communities to privately access information in their local language, irrespective of whether they are literate or not. The programme is simple but well designed and connects with the audiences empowering the audience used to directive messaging.

As it is easy to use, it helps doctors and health workers connect with patients without much effort. It also improves adherence to treatment helping patients complete the course of treatment. Technology intervention engages, motivates and helps people to learn more about TB. Moreover, it is an approach to end the isolation that TB affected individuals and their families often feel.

India has set the deadline for TB eradication as 2025- five years prior to the global deadline. To be able to meet this deadline, it is critical that information on TB be disseminated as widely as possible.

I believe, information is the most critical need of any TB patient to survive and defeat it. So let’s come together to disseminate information, empower communities and the affected individuals. Let’s start Talking TB now!