Last Gasp

What Tuberculosis can teach India about COVID-19

Medical workers wearing personal protective equipment take care of a patient suffering from COVID-19 at a hospital in Delhi. The pandemic has redirected attention from all other health programmes. Danish Siddiqui / REUTERS
01 August, 2020


IN DECEMBER 2019, Dr Lalit Anande was anxiously following the news from Wuhan. A mysterious SARS-like virus was spreading through the Chinese city. “I heard it was an airborne disease,” Anande told me, recalling the conversation among his doctor friends at the time. “We were hearing that patients had similar symptoms, like coughing, fever, et cetera.” 

Anande’s anxiety gave way to panic around February, when he saw videos coming out of China showing more and more people dying from COVID-19. “I thought Wuhan is a big city, but Mumbai is bigger in terms of population density. What would happen if something like this hits us?”

Wuhan has a population of 11.1 million, where Mumbai has a population of 18.4 million—on a smaller landmass. And Mumbai already has the melancholy distinction of being ground zero for a different infectious, airborne respiratory disease: tuberculosis.