The human face of TB - trauma, isolation, stigma et all

One installation and 35 paintings capturing the emotions of the afflicted is part of an exhibition "Chehera: The Human Face of TB" has been put together in an exhibition here in support of the World TB day on March 24, jointly by the NGO Global Health Advocates (GHA) and Art for Change Foundation (ACF) in partnership with Confederation of Indian Industries (CII).

"We want people to see TB in a whole different perspective. While government and civil society members are involved in the fight against the disease an entire section of the society remains ignorant and tend to generally brush the issue under the carpet," says Christo Mathews, advocacy officer, GHA India.

The artists interacted with patients and doctors at a TB hospital and retreated into a 6-month long art camp where they culled their experiences which transformed into the resulting artworks for the exhibition.

"Walking through hospital wards talking to patients and sometimes sitting on their beds, we tried to make sense of the roots of the problem and understand how extensive it was and the specific challenges of stigma and fear faced by the suffering patient. One of the artists was even scared to step into the ward," says Stephan Prakash Eicher, executive director, AFC.

Eicher says art allows people to see issues in a way they have never done before and the reach of the disease along with the humanness of the tragedy struck each of the 22 participating artist differently, which is seen in their respective works.

An old man lying in a bed abandoned by his family, a woman turned out of her home and planning her divorce after getting better, a boy asking them to photograph the man in the next bed rather then himself as he feared being recognised locally were some of the experiences of the artists.

"I talked to a man whose children were about the same age as my children. After the conversation he took off his mask and he was a completely different man. My painting is a reflection of how masks is a banner that separates on human being  from another," says Eicher.

"Empty Chair" an installation of an evocatively draped figure of a lady by artist Megha Joshi is designed to inspire curiosity and raise questions of issues like isolation and stigma faced by a TB patient.

Two paintings have been inspired by a hospitalised young girl who brought roses for all the artists. Another painting tries to answer the eternal question "Why Me?" while yet another artwork by Japanese artist record the voiceless streams of consciousness of patients.

With an estimated 2 million new cases every year India has the highest TB burden in the world and it is estimated that around 40 per cent of the country's population is infected with the TB bacillus- carry the bacteria but don't have TB disease.

Symptoms of the chronic infection, which usually involves the lungs but can affect all parts of the human body expect the hair, is usually spread by air and results in cough, sweating at night, limb pain and can fever.

While India is committed to achieving the millennium development goal to halt and reverse the incidence of TB by 2015, some say it is going to be a herculean challenge. India's national TB control programme one of the fastest growing programmes in the world that places approximately 100,000 patients on treatment every month for the pandemic which also has a deep economic impact.

"There is a huge scope for an increased involvement of industry in the fight against TB. We are hoping to target corporates in three ways- involve them in tackling the disease in their workplaces, serve as a source of funding in hi-tech areas like sponsoring costly diagnostic machines  as well as exercise their influence on policy makers to fight the disease in an efficient manner," says Matthews.

CII has been partnering with many companies for the past few years to engage and leverage the strengths of the industry in TB control. "Complete eradication is going to be difficult in my lifetime but not impossible. There are visionaries out there and using interrupted technology there is hope that within the next 50 to 60 years it can go the smallpox way but there is going to be tremendous political will for that to happen," says Matthews.

Meanwhile, hosted by the the Religare Arts Initiative in Delhi, artworks in the exhibition have been made available by the artists to be acquired by people and the proceeds would be given to the cause of TB, say organisers.

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