55,293 TB patients diagnosed through sputum collection and transport in India

The Union’s Project Axshya – an enormous advocacy, communication and social mobilisation programme in India – has helped diagnose and treat 55,293 people infected with tuberculosis (TB). This is from a total of 655,981 patients showing TB symptoms identified and referred to local health centres by an extensive network of Project Axshya volunteers since the programme’s beginning in April 2013.

Project Axshya mobilises volunteers in 285 districts across 19 states who facilitate TB testing in communities where, for many reasons including distance, financial resources, health concerns, or family or work responsibilities, residents are often unable or struggle to reach state clinics and diagnostic centres. The Project Axshya community volunteers – many of whom have been affected by TB themselves – work in hard-to-reach communities or with tribal groups, spreading awareness and information about TB, and collecting and transporting sputum samples to testing facilities when they identify a person showing TB symptoms.

One such volunteer, Gurubari Hessa, a 28 year old woman who has worked closely with the residents of Kondua, a tribal village in West Singhbhum district since 2014, provides information on TB to nearly every household. She is well known and respected in the community and visits regularly, speaking with residents and collecting sputum samples for testing when necessary. Gurubari alone has identified 116 people showing TB symptoms whose sputum samples she transported for testing, and regularly provides directly observed treatment for TB to those who test positive. Since 2014, Gurubari has helped cure 16 patients in Kondua and is currently administering treatment to seven more.

Gurubari’s impact in Kondua is evident, but multiply that impact by the 10,000 Axshya volunteers working in some 300 districts and the scale of the programme is astounding.

India has a number of state-run community health centres throughout the country which are set up to treat people in the area for many common diseases and health issues, including TB. However, villages that depend on these centres for healthcare can be located some 50 kilometres or further from the clinics, complicating access to information and care for many. These healthcare centres rely on volunteers like those working with Project Axshya to bridge the gap. One community health centre in West Singbhum noted that Axshya volunteers contributed to half of the total referred and diagnosed TB patients in the clinic. Between June 2015 and July 2016, of the 664 total patients received showing TB symptoms, 371 had been referred by Axshya volunteers and 97 people (49 of whom came through Project Axshya) were diagnosed and put on treatment.

“All of us in the family could have died of TB if Gurubari had not helped us. Myself, my wife Sumitra and daughter Grasce were diagnosed with TB one after another in one and a half years”, says Vim Sen Hessa, from Kondua. Gurubari identified the family’s symptoms, collected samples for testing and administered their TB medication to them. They are now cured of TB.

Project Axshya is implemented through The Union South-East Asia Office. It aims to improve access to quality TB care and control through a partnership between government and civil society with funding from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.