Monocle|Subodh Gupta in New Dehli
This story marks my very first visit to India. While there, I met and had lunch with Indian artist Subodh Gupta. I have been an admirer of Gupta's work for years. And so it was a real honor to have had the opportunity to break bread with him and get to know more about his practice.
While I was in Dehli, I also had the chance to spend an afternoon meeting with Sandeep Ahuja, an extraordinary man who is working to fight tuberculosis in the city's most impoverished neighborhoods.
What is unique about his NGO, called Operation Asha, is the way in which they distribute medicine, as well as the overall costs to getting people the treatment they need. They have invented a system that requires patients to have their fingers scanned every time they come into the clinic. That eliminates the need for them to remember to bring any cards with any details, and it also alerts the system if they have not come in for their treatment.
If someone has skipped taking their medicine, within 24 hours an alert is sent that requires Operation Asha councilors to track down the absentee patient to take his medicine. Missing a day of medicine can be deadly serious with TB.
If someone begins treatment and then stops, the disease can morph into a very deadly strain that is nearly impossible to treat--although Operation Asha is working on eliminating that as well.
The training of councilors is also a fascinating one. Rather than having them based in hospitals, or far from the ailing, they recruit people working within their neighborhoods, making it easy for the medicine to be taken (one location for instance was operated by a woman who runs a 24 hour telephone booth out of her home).
In between customers, patients come in and she scans their fingers and then administers the medicine). Unlike any other operation in the world they have managed to get the price to cure a patient down to $30--that is $30 to treat them throughout the illness. This is about 70% less than any other TB NGO in the world.
On an economic note, TB affects productivity. And it is estimated that millions are lost from the Indian economy as a result of the illness--which is so easily treatable.
Essentially, this amazing team has created an approach to curing TB that can be exported around the world. So far, the program is operating in India and Cambodia.
Curing TB is one of the UN Millennium Project goals. ASHA is offering a simple solution to a massive problem.