March 20, 2022
Health care for the students at Pardada Pardadi Educational Society (PPES) is just steps away from the school’s main building at the Prana Health Center. When children don’t feel well, they come to the Center to see the school nurse, Elsa Joseph or a doctor. They may have tummy troubles, a head bump, or a fever, but much more than caring for illness and injury occurs at the Center. Here, the girls also learn the basics of personal hygiene, such as proper hand washing and tooth brushing, and receive routine health screening tests and essential vaccines. Sometimes the very presence of professional medical care changes the course of a child’s life and may save it.
For instance, when 12-year-old Aaisha (not her real name) began coughing blood, medical attention at the clinic was immediate. A skin test for tuberculosis was positive, so she was taken to a nearby hospital for a chest X-ray, which confirmed the diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis. Within days, Aaisha was admitted to the Layla Ram Saroop Tuberculosis Hospital in New Delhi, where she received state-of-the art treatment with a combination of four drugs over several months.
Aaisha had become one of the 2.8 million people diagnosed with tuberculosis in India each year, about 10 percent of them children. Not only is TB one of India’s greatest health problems, but globally, the country bears the greatest burden of multi-drug-resistant TB.
Like many children in rural India, Aaisha was underweight and at high risk for TB, also known as the “silent killer.” She lived in close quarters with other high-risk people, and, as is common in village homes, she was exposed to indoor smoke from cooking stoves. Also, it’s unlikely that she received the BCG vaccine against TB as a newborn.
Health in Crisis
Typically, when a student at PPES has a health emergency, the family takes over. Aaisha, though, had no family. Her mother’s whereabouts were not known and her father was deceased, so she had been living with a family in her village.
Prana Health Center nurse Elsa Joseph stepped in, staying at Aaisha’s hospital bedside for a few days until the girl’s fever broke and the supportive medical care improved her condition. For the remaining three months, Elsa and her friends and family took turns visiting Aaisha, reassuring her that she was not alone.
“I was scared I would die like my dad did,” Aaisha remembers, her bright eyes suddenly brimming with tears as she recalls those first days in the hospital. As her symptoms eased, her appetite returned, and, perhaps equally important, her anxiety lessened. Photos of her laughing with her new best friend, a young girl in the next hospital bed, are on Elsa’s smart phone. Clearly a month into her hospitalization, Aaisha was better but complete healing would become a months-long journey.
The Long Road to Recovery
Although Aaisha was healthy enough to leave the TB hospital, she was seriously weakened by the disease and not well enough to return to her neighbor’s household. Supportive care and three healthy meals a day were still needed. Plus, her daily prescribed drug regimen required vigilance—not a single dose could be missed.
PPES and the Prana Health Center stepped in again: Aaisha would continue to recuperate for three months in a room next to Elsa’s in the PPES guest house.
Returning to a Healthy Life
Today, Aaisha radiates the good health of a lively 14-year-old. Her lungs are clear, she’s gained weight, and her cheeks are chubby. She’s living in the home of kind neighbors and is going to school at PPES every day. She has worked diligently to make up for time lost in her studies is enjoying being back with her fourth-grade classmates.
The “what if’s” in Aaisha’s story would have been very grim had she not been a PPES student with access to the Prana Health Center. Without the prompt attention of a medical volunteer, Dr. Satyendra Sharma; the Center’s Dr. Sudhir Sharma; and nurse Elsa Joseph, the infection would have overwhelmed her body and perhaps spread to those she lived with and possibly her entire village. Sadly, that is the case for many impoverished adults and children with TB in rural India who have limited or no access to medical attention.
Fortunately, at PPES and the Prana Health Center, maintaining wellness, practicing preventive health care, and receiving prompt treatment of potentially devastating diseases are as essential to a good life as education.