A sunshine story

Dec 2014 Bharathi Ghanshyam Photo credit: Shweta Vitta

It’s dusk and there is a flurry of activities happening outside the houses in the slum. Women are busy washing clothes and vessels, cleaning lice out of their children’s heads or talking to the neighbours. Some come out hurriedly, throw vegetable peels or leftover food on the road and go inside.

To enter Bande Nawaaz’s house, in Badami distict in north Karnataka, one has to cross a small open sewer too. Inside, it’s a small, long house of three rooms and no ventilation. But unlike most houses in the slum, Bande Nawaaz’s house is different. It’s extremely clean and hygienic. Everything has its own place in the house. The little toilet outside the house has no access to water. But, there are two buckets filled with water, closed with lids.

At 5.50 pm Bande Nawaaz walks into the house. He heads straight to the kitchen and warms some water. He comes back and sits with the glass of water and his medicines and waits for the clock to strike six. At six he quickly swallows his tablets and starts telling his story.

Bande Nawaaz is Zakir’s step-brother. Zakir is around 30 years old and runs a small mobile shop. His sister-in-law had TB and Bande Nawaaz contracted it from her. He says, “I used to cough a lot. I had to stop playing and going out. Then one day, Bhuvaneshwari Akka came home to visit us. When she saw me coughing continuously, she sensed something might be wrong and asked if I was shown to the doctor.”

His brother, Zakir, says, “We had taken him to a private doctor who dismissed it as regular cough. There were no tests done but they gave him an asthma pump and medicines. There was temporary relief. When Bhuvaneshwari said he might be showing TB symptoms, we took him to the government hospital.”

A manteaux test confirmed him positive for pulmonary TB. He was put on TB medication immediately. His family made a lot of lifestyle changes for him. For instance, they completely gave up eating spicy and oily food because the doctor advised Bande Nawaaz against it. Zakir’s wife Shehnaz says, “It’s impossible for a child so young to have self-control, especially when it comes to food. So we all decided to change our diet for him. It really worked because his cough stopped aggravating.”  Initially, on days when Bande Nawaaz would be in tuitions or forget to take his medicines while playing, his step-brother would go on the bike and make sure he took his dosage. Zakir says, “That also helped a lot because he realized the importance of regularity. Now, we don’t have to remind him. He goes to the DOTS centre himself, gets his weekly dosage and every day he’s home 5 minutes before it’s time for his medicines.”

Today, he’s left with just two weeks of medicines and his last test results were negative. He feels much better and does all his chores himself. He’s resumed playing and hopes to join the police force one day. Bande Nawaaz truly highlights the importance of a supportive and caring family in treating something like TB. In the scenario of defaulters, where patients progress to CAT II and even MDR or die because of carelessness, Bande Nawaaz is truly a sunshine story.