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Kashmir Newz Specials

Kashmir TB campaign on wrong wavelength

Authorites are banking on the reach of radio to create awareness about Tuberculosis in Kashmir; experts say, not enough. Peerzada Arshad Hamid reports.

Srinagar, Jan 20, 2012:

TB patient
A tuberculosis patient inside isolation ward at Chest Diseases Hospital Srinagar
The Department of Health in Kashmir sponsors a commercial on “Radio Kashmir-Srinagar” to put across its word on Tuberculosis (TB).

Highlighting the symptoms of this contagious disease and subsequently stressing on approaching nearest government run TB centre for medical checkup and free prescription, the two minute commercial acts as curtain raiser for the disease.

The advertisement in chaste Kashmiri language by a Kashimri satirical poet Ayub Sabir wraps up the treatment of TB as envisaged under the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) and is aired at a prime time before the popular Kashmiri news bulletin at 7:30 in evening.

From symptoms like continuous cough for two weeks to fever are thoroughly described and people with similar complaints are advised to visit the closest health centre (or DOTS centre as they are called) for Direct Observed Treatment Short course (DOTS).

Two sputum tests within two days followed by telling people about free medicine available at various DOTS centres, the advertisement clarifies that these medicines are to be taken without break for six to eight months.

Besides promising recovery, it warns of serious consequences in case of break in medication.

The advertisement run on the medium wave radio frequency according to experts is “superb”.

“Apart from how TB is treated elsewhere in the world, the advertisement aptly describes its treatment under RNTCP protocol,” said Dr Muhammad Salim Khan, consultant at the department of Community Medicine at Government Medical College (GMC).

Khan, however says the advertisement caters only the Kashmiri speaking population.

“Most of the TB patients are Gujjars, who don’t speak Kashmiri, may not understand the advertisement properly,” said Khan.

Nowadays radio being not so popular in Kashmir, the advertisement “campaign” though “terrific” seems to be quite inadequate if not misplaced, argue mass media professionals in Srinagar.

Bilal Ahmad is in charge Mass Media campaigns at Waves, a public relations consultancy in Srinagar.

Ahmad says there is tremendous penetration of television in the valley and any advertisement campaign which is not run on TV may not be effective at all.

“Even with a terrific advertisement broadcast on radio, the TB awareness campaign may not be having the desired results as it is not telecast on TV,” Ahmad said. “Even print media which has a better impact than the radio does not have any such advertisement.”

Ahmad advocates issues involving public health dependent on mass media campaigns need to be conceived and implemented ardently to achieve maximum results.

“For any successful media campaign, you have to use all the available mediums to get the messages transmitted,” said Ahmad. “By choosing only one medium, you can’t claim to have reached the targeted group.

TB perceived as poor man’s disease finds majority of the cases in valley coming from Gujjar and Pahari families inhabiting the remote areas of Kashmir.

Doctors say the unhygienic living conditions in crowded hutments or makeshift homes often filled with smoke increases the chances of family members to fall prey to the TB bacterium Mycobacterium Tuberculosis .

* Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs

* It spreads through air via droplets from the lungs when TB patient coughs, sneezes or talks

* If not treated, each person with active TB can infect on average 10 to 15 people a year

* Symptoms of TB include coughing for two weeks, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats

* Tuberculosis is treatable with a course of antibiotics

* Tuberculosis is completely curable

* TB is not hereditary

* Improper treatment can lead to a drug resistant form of TB- MDR or XDR

* TB is a leading killer among people living with HIV, who have weakened immune systems

* Among the 15 countries with the highest estimated TB incidence rates, 13 are in Africa, while a third of all new cases are in India and China.

Aid workers say the TB advertisement on radio in Kashmiri will not be having the desired impact, for the intended message will not be easily comprehended by the Gujjar’s and Paharis.

“For them the messages have to in their local language,” said Abdul Jaleel Lone, a humanitarian aid worker, who has worked in frontier Kupwara villages having Gujjar population.

The RNTCP has completed around 14 years of its implementation.

Though under RNTCP it was envisaged that for consolidation of the TB control measures, needs of marginalized sections and special groups should be paid special attention, however no such measures are seen to be put in practice.

“Special mechanisms to make services accessible, acceptable to the difficult to reach sections of the society are envisaged,” reads last year’s annual status report of RNTCP. “These include communication approaches that are particular to specific geographic areas (media-dark areas) or cultural or social contexts.”

Though TB is a contagious disease, patients suffering from TB are administered multi-drug treatment and asked to continue their daily chores. Experts fear it puts health of their co-workers and family at risk of contracting the disease.

A person suffering from TB can infect 10 to 15 people in a year.

To stop further infections, the TB patients need to be properly trained on how to minimize chances of spreading the infection, experts say.

However, there is no mass awareness programme about containing the spread of the disease, which is another grey area in the TB ad campaign in Kashmir.

With TB posing a challenge to the healthcare system in Kashmir and lack of awareness hampering the control of the infectious disease, there is a need to implement powerful and effective mass media campaign about the disease.

“For a powerful TB campaign encompassing both awareness and encouraging components, the health department needs to unleash a sustained advertisement campaign through TV, newspapers, radio, traditional means, billboards, etc in the valley to send across the messages,” suggests Ahmad. “The messages should make people come forward to seek treatment without getting entangled into taboos.”

India has the highest burden of TB in the world, accounting for approximately one fifth of the global incidence – an estimated 2 million cases annually. Despite being curable and preventable, yet, experts say, it causes significant morbidity and mortality, which is a cause of serious concern,.

Though couple of commercials in Hindi on India’s official television – DD National – are occasionally beamed to create awareness, however TB advocates say, the efforts are halfhearted.

They even say TB ads in comparison to the AIDS ads are less striking.

(Under the aegis of REACH Lilly MDR-TB Partnership)

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