In the first week of April, a 42-year-old man walked nearly seven kilometres from his house, in the town of Hapur in Uttar Pradesh, to get himself tested for drug-resistant tuberculosis at the TB centre in the district. He works as a tailor and does not own any vehicle. “I walk slowly now,” the 42-year-old tailor told me, sounding breathless over the phone. “I often struggle to breathe. But I plucked up the courage and kept walking.”
During his trek to the TB centre, the tailor said he was stopped by the police and asked where he was going. He was allowed to pass after he told them he wanted to get medicines. It took him about an hour-and-half to walk to the district’s TB centre and around the same amount of time to return. He had to make the journey again to get the results, when he discovered that he had tested positive. With another long walk, the 42-year-old returned with medication. “I felt that if I delayed taking medicines further, I could lose my life,” he said. His name, and those of other TB patients quoted in this story, have been withheld for their privacy.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown on 24 March, the public-health system has been directed primarily towards COVID-19 prevention and treatment. The shutting of outpatient departments in the country’s hospitals have severely affected those with other ailments, such as TB, even though it shows symptoms—cough, fever and difficulty in breathing—similar to those of COVID-19. The consequences have been grave, with the lockdown leading to a sharp drop in the diagnosis of tuberculosis, which in turn could increase the transmission of the disease through undiagnosed patients. Even among patients who have been diagnosed, the restrictions on movement have made it difficult to access regular treatment, which can have irreversible effects of the infection developing a resistance to life-saving drugs.