Home Church in Action Catholic Church helps fight tuberculosis in India's northeast

Catholic Church helps fight tuberculosis in India’s northeast

Studies also show that an estimated 64 percent of the India's population who had been diagnosed with TB do not seek medication

Bran Sokhlet lives in a dilapidated structure in the village of Pynursla, a hamlet in a northeastern Indian state known for its streams, lush green mountains, and living root bridges.

Although Bran’s environment has been a prime tourist attraction for decades, the 51-year-old suffers from tuberculosis, a preventable but deadly disease.

A tourist guide and a father of three children, Bran’s life used to be “normal.” He was comfortable with what he earned from taking tourists, most of them foreigners, to different locations in picturesque Pynursla.

The tourists would camp in the middle of the thick green forests for days, and Bran would return home with a good amount of money. He dreamt of opening his own travel agency someday.

“I admitted my children to a good school. I was taking care of my family with the best of facilities. I had least fears of turning bankrupt and struggle to make both ends meet,” he told LiCAS News.

However, two years ago, his life turned upside down. He felt an unusual chest pain followed by regular coughing. He undermined the signs and went on with his daily routine while taking over-the-counter medications prescribed by a local chemist.

Days passed and there was no respite to Bran’s coughing. People noticed and a friend, a distant relative, suggested a medical check-up.

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“My daily routine was affected. I could barely leave home. When I went to a doctor, he prescribed a series of tests. The result shook me to the core,” he said.

He was diagnosed with active tuberculosis, a contagious illness that infects a person’s lungs and other tissues. It is spread when a person coughs, sneezes, talks, sings, or even laughs. Bran was diagnosed with advanced stage of TB.

“I began to get an upset stomach and remained bedridden for days. My earnings plummeted and so were my hopes of getting better,” he said.

Due to lack of adequate medical facilities in his village, he was taken to the city where he was admitted to a hospital. The family had to rent out a room, resulting in financial difficulties.

Bran’s savings were exhausted and the family had no other option but to take Bran home.

“I wasn’t earning. What would I do? Where would I go?” he said, adding that he even entertained taking his own life.

A woman with TB is give advise at a Church-run center in East Meghalaya, India. (Photo by Bilona Khongwar)

India has the largest number of incident TB cases in the world. As per government data, the country has 312 TB cases per 100,00 population above the age of 15. The global average is 127 per 100,000 people. One person every minute is dying due to tuberculosis in India.

Studies also show that an estimated 64 percent of the country’s population who had been diagnosed with TB do not seek medication. Researchers also pointed the scarcity of proper healthcare mechanisms in the country.

In the village, Bran’s health continued to deteriorate and he had nothing but prayers. “There was nothing in my hands. I had no resources, no contacts, and no money. I was pinning my hope in God,” he said.

One day, representatives of a Catholic Church agency visited the village to do a survey on TB cases. Bran’s situation became one of the case studies of the local Church’s “Treatment Adherence Scheme” and “TB Advocacy, Communication, and Social Mobilization Scheme” for remote places.

The social service arm of the Church in India’s north East Meghalaya was initiated in 2020 and consists of creating awareness about the disease and home visits to help patients adhere to proper medical care.

It also aims to ensure that treatment is readily available.

The Church, in collaboration with local government agencies, also provides free nutritional support for vulnerable TB patients.

So far, a total of 53 patients have already been served, with 21 already cured of the disease while another 20 have reportedly increased weight.

The Church is running the program in 23 villages in India’s north Eastern state of Meghalaya under the supervision of Father Bensar Wyswiwyg, director of the Catholic Church’s social service department.

Under the program, Bran was provided with free medical care, medicines, and essential commodities required for his health.

“Gradually, things have become normal now,” he said, adding that with his improving health, he was able to counseling sessions.

“It has instilled a new hope in me, that I can put my life back on track,” he said. “God has come to my rescue.”

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