Samidha Khandare, the daughter of primary school teachers in Akola, was a meritorious student who was interning at a TB hospital in Mumbai. But she soon contracted multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB) while working, and passed away before she could fulfill her dream of being a doctor. Samidha's story is not unique. There are many health workers who are putting themselves at risk by working so closely with TB patients in poor working conditions and without the necessary protective gear. Dr Santosh Wakchaure, President of Medical Association of Resident Doctors (MARD) says, "Around 30-35 doctors have been infected with TB in Maharashtra alone."
The working conditions in government hospitals in India are quite stressful. Which is why health workers are constantly at risk of contracting TB. The working hours are not fixed—and can vary from 24 to 72 hours at a stretch. "By the end of the shift, you're exhausted and don't feel like eating. So your immunity is definitely going to suffer," says Wakchaure. “The living conditions are poor as well. Often 5 resident doctors live in one tiny room,” he adds.
It's not just junior doctors, the other staff who tending to TB patients in these hospitals are also at risk. Pradeep Narkar, the secretary of Mumbai Municipal Mazdoor Union, says around 38 staffers have already contracted MDR TB. The availability of protective gear is also scarce. "They give one mask for 10 days, whereas ideally these are use and throw masks," says Narkar. "They have not even provided a uniform to the staff—so now they wear the same clothes at work and carry the infections with them back home!"
If these brave health workers have to fight the good fight against TB, they need to be given the correct gear and decent living and working conditions as well.