He is a one man help desk against an old scourge. Dr. Lalitkumar Anande randomly gets on to any local train, positions himself in the crowd and starts talking using a tiny speaker.
Whether on trains, in housing societies, schools, colleges, temples and mosques, his catch line is, ‘May I Help You?’
The 53-year old chief medical officer of Sewree’s Tuberculosis Hospital, reputedly Asia’s largest, runs a one man anti-TB campaign. In the past four years, Dr. Anande has communicated with over one lakh people in Mumbai about latent TB bacteria.
“Everyone talks of active TB, people who are already suffering, facing drug resistance or side effects of medicines. But I want the city to focus also on latent TB that we carry in our bodies. We need to understand how to keep the latent bacteria lying low,” says Dr. Anande who has been attached to the TB hospital for 27 years.
His approach is simple. If he has a TB patient in the crowd, he simply emphasizes sneezing and coughing etiquette. But for others, he has many suggestions. “I focus on the importance of Vitamin D and C and proteins. And tell them about simple food items like lime, amla, green drumstick, peanuts and goat milk, which are loaded with these nutrients,” he says.
For impact, the campaigner often introduces himself as the latent mycobacterium, which causes TB. He then explains what keeps the mycobacterium dormant and what activates it. “The mycobacterium is extremely intelligent. It remains dormant, waiting for the body’s immunity to fall. The moment that happens, it activates itself and multiplies. Ninety per cent of TB cases are pulmonary and the organism eats up the lungs,” he explains.
Dr. Anande’s initiative began in 2013 after Mumbai was exposed to Totally Drug Resistant TB identified by doctors at Hinduja Hospital. The term TDR was not accepted by the government, however, and the study turned the spotlight on the disease. That is when the CMO began his experiment. He would visit bus stops, autorickshaw stands or even social gatherings. “I see every moment as an opportunity. Once I was on my way to south Mumbai and was stuck is bumper-to-bumper traffic. I parked my vehicle and began knocking on the windows of people’s cars one by one.”
“Surprisingly, everyone listened to the two-minute talk where I simply emphasized two things - TB is extremely dangerous and only your immunity can save you.”
Last Friday, he was in the hospital when he heard the azan from the nearby masjid. Sure that this was a good opportunity to get an audience, Dr. Anande rushed there, introduced himself to the maulvi and managed to get a crowd of 50 people. He now gets invites from people from housing societies, schools and colleges where he goes with a power point presentation.
The Health Ministry says TB is one of the leading causes of mortality in India, killing more than 300,000 people every year. The Sewree TB Hospital sees around 300 outpatients a day and admits about 80. The World Health Organisation in its Global TB Report, 2016, stated that the number of incident cases of TB in India has been revised to 2.8 million cases in 2015 and 2.9 million cases in 2014 as against the earlier estimated figures of 2.2 million cases in 2014.
“The burden is will only increase if we don’t tackle the mycobacterium the right way, I think we should make peace with the organism but letting it be and always be dominant over it boosting immunities and thus focusing on prevention,” said Dr Anande who aims at reaching 1.5 crore Mumbaikar by creating clones of the mycobacterium like himhe says.