At a flood relief camp in Banmankhi,3-year-old Pankhi is vomiting blood. She is too young to realize that her entire family is in the grips of tuberculosis — her mother Ramli, 17, has been recently detected with tuberculosis, who got it from her sister Kamli, who is sharing the tent with them.
Those who managed to survive the wrath of Kosi may not be able to bear the brunt of tuberculosis, which is the fastest-spreading infection in the cramped and unhygienic camps.
Dr Kumar and Dr Devesh Chandra—both from Patna -- sit on medicine cartons at the Mircahibari chowk camp, where the Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) questions a patient—“Kya taqleef hai? (What is the problem?).”
Pointing to his wife he says, “Sahib, khoon ki ulti ho rahi hai and bukaar bhi hai (She is vomiting blood and also has fever). She’s not alone.
Within thirty days, 30 new cases of tuberculosis have been detected in Banmankhi, with a population of 30,000 people. Since symptoms take weeks to develop, doctors say the the diagnosed cases are just the tip of the iceberg.
“The situation will get worse as people are living in cramped conditions and keep poor hygiene,” says Dr D.N. Bhagat, chief medical officer.
Doctors fear that the toll could go much higher as people are clustered in camps and sharing basic amenities, such as toilets which are just 8 per 3,000 people.
The government programme that offers free diagnosis and treatment to tuberculosis patients stopped as soon as the flooding started. “From what I have gathered from patients, even before floods happened, the programme was erratic in towns such as
Rupauli and Chakmaka. It’s got worse now, with all the tuberculosis patients missing their daily medication, which can lead to drug-resistant tuberculosis, which takes two years to treat,” says Dr G.D Berma, social activist and medical volunteer wit JIVIKA.
Even in government camps in Mirchaibari chowk and Purnia, the doctors are only focusing on inections such as colds, fever and diarrhoea and completely ignoring tuberculosis. “We only have instructions to distribute basic medicines. Cases of tuberculosis may be handled later,” says Dr Abhijeet Kumar, medical officer from Patna, posted in Mircahibari chowk.