The center Saraswati Kumari attends is located in Meethapur I in Delhi. The entrance is at a dusty intersection, between stalls selling fruit and car parts. Inside the center, the walls are painted blue and I can see the shelf stocked with OpASHA patient medication boxes in a back room.
Saraswati is waiting for us on a narrow bench along the wall when we come in. She is a very thin, shy girl wearing a simple kurta and leggings. She seems eager to please, with a face that looks ready to smile with a little encouragement. Saraswati is a 16-year-old pulmonary positive TB patient, who started treatment a month ago. Initially, her symptoms included fever, as well as continuous back aches and headaches, which made it difficult to study, so her grades suffered. She decided to get a check-up, and her TB was confirmed after an X-ray diagnosis. From the hospital, she was transferred to OpASHA.
In the morning, Saraswati goes to school, where she is in the 10th class. She returns around noon, and then goes to the center for her medication. As a student, she is literate, so she understands what is written on her card. She has read about TB, and knows about the side effects and length of treatment.
She says that she has not told her neighbors or friends about her TB yet. She has not personally experienced the stigma associated with the disease, but her parents have strongly advised her not to talk about it because they fear she will be ostracized if word of her illness gets out.
Saraswati tells us that she hopes to be cured soon. She would like to continue her studies and earn better marks in school. She understands the dangers of not completing treatment, and says she hopes never to miss a dose of her medication. So far, she has done well.
After the interview is over, she slips out of the center and disappears down the street. It is a shame that she must guard the secret of her TB so well—her shy, uneasy manner makes it obvious that she is nervous. Once she is cured, I hope she will be able to catch up with her studies and one day share her story of triumph over TB.
You can make a difference in the lives of patients like Saraswati.
Please donate at www.opasha.org.
Written by Hannah Wichmann