The Motorcycle Man of Khunti

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Birsa Manjhi
Birsa Manjhi
Photo credit: REACH

TB Champion Helps TB Patients During India’s COVID-19 Lockdown

When India began its nationwide lockdown in March 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, people with tuberculosis (TB) who depend on daily medications to treat and cure the disease were particularly concerned. With roads closed and no easy access to TB medications, they risked missing doses. Without life-saving TB medications, patients can become more seriously ill or develop the more deadly drug-resistant TB.

But thanks to a man and his motorcycle, TB patients in the rural Khunti district of India’s Jharkhand State, did not have to worry about running out of medication during the COVID-19 pandemic. Birsa Manjhi is a TB survivor who participated in a mentorship program supported by USAID. He is also a “TB Champion,” part of a group of volunteers who are helping their TB-affected communities ensure better treatment and support services. Most recently, he is a “treatment supporter” for ten people living with TB in this forested and mostly tribal region of the eastern Indian state, which in recent years, has witnessed political and social unrest.

Manjhi is committed to ensuring that his community remained TB-free, despite the obstacles presented by the lockdown. “Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, people in my community are worried,” he says. “People with TB whom I am supporting are afraid and need a lot of support to take their medicines on time. If they miss a dose, it will worsen their condition.”

As the nearest medical center is 20 kilometers away, it is not easy to reach during the lockdown. Using his motorcycle, Manjhi collects and delivers medicine to his patients, ensuring they have at least a one month’s supply. “The ready availability of medicines eases the anxiety of people with TB,” he says. “They feel assured of treatment continuation.”

Manjhi supplements these deliveries with counselling over the phone and has taken several ailing people to the medical center on the back of his motorcycle, taking precautionary measures by wearing a mask. Thanks to his interventions, four patients were found to be positive for TB.

Manjhi, who is a member of the Survivors’ Network of Jharkhand, has been meeting with network members and representatives from the USAID-supported REACH project via a virtual platform during this COVID-19 lockdown, where he learns additional ways he can contribute to his community during these uncertain times. The medication deliveries and phone calls have also provided him with opportunities to educate patients and families on the importance of wearing protective masks, social distancing, hand washing, treatment adherence, and proper nutrition to protect themselves from COVID-19.

Overwhelmed by his commitment to his patients, the Senior Treatment Supervisor at the medical centers praises Manhji, saying “[He] is doing great work by providing TB medicines to patients in far-off areas during the lockdown. We are overwhelmed to see his dedication. During this time, he has also accompanied referrals from Rania and got them tested. We wish him more power.”

Last updated: January 05, 2021

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