The ghosts of men and women fill the walls of government hospitals across India. They stare silently, suspended in limbo between the living and the dead. These patients are the infected, victims of a contagion so lethal it kills almost one and a half million people globally every year, and infects a further nine million.
Despite an arsenal of drugs, tuberculosis is making a devastating resurgence in one of the world’s most populated countries. TB continues to kill two Indians every three minutes.
It’s a staggering figure, one that would cause outrage in any European country or the United States of America, but which is just accepted as par for the course in this country. For decades, the Indian government has wrestled with this epidemic, introducing a nationwide free treatment program for the poorest and most vulnerable. But instead of killing the bacteria, doctors say misdiagnosis and incomplete treatments have allowed TB to thrive like never before.
The germs are becoming smarter. They are becoming resistant to the antibiotics that have been around for 50 years. When someone who has tuberculosis is not treated appropriately or doesn’t completely consume the medicines that they’ve been prescribed, they have a likelihood of going on to become drug resistant.
In India a deadly, mutant strain of tuberculosis is spreading across the country. In the shadows of India’s capital, New Delhi, Anjou Kashab quietly battles her demons. Her frail body is being ravaged by tuberculosis. Both her lungs are infected and she’s on a cocktail of pills and injections to stay alive. For 10 years Anjou has been fighting the illness, but the drugs haven’t worked. She’s seen more than a dozen doctors and swallowed thousands of prescription pills in the hope of a cure. Instead of the vibrant, young woman she once was, Anjou is now skin and bone, weighing just 29 kilos.
Anjou remembers her mother dying of tuberculosis when she was a child. Three of her four brothers and sisters have since become sick. While they’ve recovered with treatment, Anjou has become worse. She’s deeply religious but she’s losing faith in herself. Anjou is not alone in her fight for survival against TB. Millions of people are infected worldwide, nowhere more so than here in India. Tuberculosis has been around for millennia. In the middle ages it was called “consumption” and it killed two thirds of people infected before modern medicine was invented in the 1940s.
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