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Traditional artists help combat Tuberculosis in Kashmir

Haroon Mirani

Srinagar, August 06, 2007:

Tuberculosis
To combat the threat of Tuberculosis in the state, health officials have roped in traditional artists to create awareness among the general population regarding this deadly disease in Jammu and Kashmir.

The health department has started a unique campaign to deal with this endemic disease. "Our state is not a fully literate state and a large majority of our population can't read and write," said Dr. A K Peer Deputy Director Health Services, "This is the reason we have modified our way of awareness campaign and roped in traditional artists, who make people understand the problem in their own local way."

The advertisement on the Radio Kashmir is actually information given by a traditional artist known as Ladishah in a dramatic monologue. He goes on reciting the causes, symptoms and treatment of Tuberculosis in chaste Kashmiri poetry, backed by his traditional musical instrument.

Ladishah is one of the oldest folk arts of Kashmir. But over the years the art has lost its sheen and been confined to far flung rural areas. The campaign by the Health department has also spill over effect of popularising this art.

Radio in Kashmir is the most popular medium and all other mediums like Newspaper and TV come distantly after it.

“We found that not many people have access to TV and newspapers, but they are avid listeners of Radio, so we laid the thrust on Radio, as these very people are at the high risk of Tuberculosis,” Peer said.

The health officials are very happy with their efforts. According to Peer the results have been encouraging after this type of awareness campaign was started.

"Earlier we had very few people coming for sputum test, but now thanks to the sustained information campaign lots and lots of people are coming forward."

Encouraged by its success same type of advertisements are also being planned to be aired from state run television network Doordarshan Kendra Srinagar.

The department also occasionally organizes awareness camps in remote areas, the places where from majority of Tuberculosis cases come.

"We have not rested here only. We have made wall paintings, banners and posters keeping in view the local culture. Those are being distributed and pasted at thousands of places all round the State," Peer said.

Booklets and portraits are also being made part of this process. In addition to it, the health department is organising seminars and workshops to spread the awareness about the Tuberculosis.

The entire awareness and information campaign has been localised, the health officials say.

Dr. Peer said that earlier the department used to take folk theatre groups to remote areas, where skits would be shown for the local public. "The message weaved around the drama in folk culture was the most effective medium and it not brought awareness among the people about TB but also about other diseases and problems," said Peer.

The process had to cut short after the eruption of insurgency in the State in the 1989. "As most of the villages were in far flung areas that were highly sensitive on account of security situation, so we had to abandon the programme" Peer said. But now as the security conditions are improving the department is mooting to plan reviving the activity.

To start with the ground staff of the health department has been instructed to visit the villages personally to deliver the message about Tuberculosis care and symptoms to those people who are left behind.

According to the statistics with the health department there are 10,268 registered TB patients in Jammu and Kashmir. Out of them 6,178 are in Jammu division and rest come from the Kashmir division.

The government here is battling with containing this highly contagious disease with not much success due to a number of problems. Off late the disease has seen resurgence almost everywhere including Jammu and Kashmir.

The state's traditional rural areas are the hotbed of TB infection. Majority of TB cases in Kashmir have been found among the tribal population, who live in congested hutments, with only one opening for fresh air.

At some places it has been seen that even cattle are herded inside these houses in extreme winters. "Here TB infection quickly multiplies and situation becomes worse when the residents drink raw milk," says Dr Muzaffar Mirza, Head of Department in Chest Disease Hospital, Srinagar.

"The lack of awareness is the main problem here as almost 50 per cent of population lives in hilly areas and their education level in lowest," said a pediatrician Dr. Arif in Srinagar.

"If we have to eradicate the Tuberculosis we have to target this section of the population from where majority of TB cases come," he further added.

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