The power of youth and technology to end tuberculosis | The Financial Express

The power of youth and technology to end tuberculosis

TB is one of India’s major public health problems and accounts for over one-fourth of the world’s TB cases.

The power of youth and technology to end tuberculosis
The last few years have shown us that technology has driven healthcare more than any other force, and it will continue to do so in the future too. (File)

By Sarthak Ranade

Young Indians feel passionately about social, political issues, around climate change and conservation of natural resources. They aren’t afraid to step up, use technology and lead the change. Most recently, Covid-19 speed-rolled digital health and placed the spotlight on the role of technology in improving access in India, demonstrating how technology can be put to good use.

For example, in Chennai, a 30-year-old mechatronics engineer and self-taught programmer, cofounded a startup that provides waste management solutions to waste-pickers of Chennai with the help of the Internet of Things (IoT). Another startup is a free mobile app launched in the second wave of the pandemic by three graduates from IIT-Delhi that provided real-time tracking on the availability of hospital beds, oxygen suppliers, videos from doctors and more. This app was a boon for needy patients and their families.

Learnings from the pandemic

Today, pandemic cases have ebbed, and businesses are back on the recovery track.

What we have learnt from this is that, after the initial shock and systemic issues brought on by a lack of preparedness, there must come a crucial phase of adaptation and innovation. The youth of India have emerged as effective catalysts for this phase.Because of their familiarity and access to technology and social media, they have proved to be best equipped to raise awareness on important public health and social issues.

There is a need to involve brilliant young minds like the engineer from Chennai and the three IIT-Delhi graduates who connect well with the masses and can have a force multiplier effect to end another infectious disease from India: tuberculosis (TB).

TB is one of India’s major public health problems and accounts for over one-fourth of the world’s TB cases. A report by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information estimated the highest TB burden in India was found in the 20–60-year age group, almost 72% of the total cases in the country. Interestingly, this is the same age group that is internet-savvy and accounts for most of the social media use in the country.

Work around TB in India

To this end, on World TB Day this year, we launched a youth-focused, digital initiative, ‘Be the Change For TB’ as part of our Corporate TB Pledge, a joint initiative with the Central TB Division, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in India, and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The initiative, amplified by the actor Vani Kapoor and rap artist Kaam Bhari, elicited a very encouraging response from the 18-30-year age group. This demonstrated that the country is ready for a pan-India multi-lingual social campaign, spearheaded by youth icons and influencers. The benefits of using new digital mediums to spread awareness were that the messages were circulated using mixed formats and reached high-risk groups, which emphasized themes of recognizing early symptoms, timely testing, finding treatment facilities, busting misconceptions, treatment adherence and healthy lifestyles.

An issue that was previously only talked about in patient support groups was suddenly out there being discussed by the masses. This is indeed the power of youth and digital technology.

Going forward, building awareness need not be confined to days like World TB Day but instead could be reinforced on other days such as National Youth Day, World Health Day or even World No Tobacco Day (to highlight TB-tobacco use inter-linkages), and through new channels. It is certainly a good start that as part of the recent 75th anniversary of India’s independence, schools and colleges in various states initiated TB awareness campaigns involving paintings, documentaries, debates and poster activities among students.

The last few years have shown us that technology has driven healthcare more than any other force, and it will continue to do so in the future too.

Every individual and every organisation has the potential to make an impact in the fight against TB. With the power of multi-sector partnerships, coming together in numbers and uniting under one common cause, we can help turn the tide against this devastating disease – once and for all. An approach that includes the youth of the country harnessing digital technologies can give us faster, optimum results. Only then can India achieve the Prime Minister’s goal of being TB free by 2025.

(The author is Managing Director, Janssen India & South Asia. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)

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