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Screams from a large crowd, made up of hundreds of kids, ushered the IRP India group through Bhiwandi, a very poor settlement in Mumbai, India. The neighborhood, we learned, is home to thousands of migrants who are mostly workers in cloth-weaving factories that are located in the area.
A common health challenge in the settlement is tuberculosis. The project we visited, called Operation Asha, is saving lives in the area through a biometric (fingerprint) system used to track patients and to ensure they take their medications.
When patients place their fingers on the biometric device, their earlier captured details show on an attached laptop. It also shows when they last took their medications and what they have taken so far. The doctors say to cure tuberculosis completely, patients must strictly adhere to their routine medication.
Patients are assisted by the health personnel to take their dose, and they are also reminded of when the next one is due. If patients don't show up for treatment, counselors attached to the project take their drugs to them at home. Most of the residents have access to mobile phones, which also helps with communication.
But here's the best part: All this medical care is free!
In addition, tests are carried out to ensure family members of infected patients are not hit by the deadly infection as well, and these services are also free.
Interestingly, as poor as Bhiwandi is, cell phones dotted the hands of residents like candies. Some of the people snapped pictures of us with their phones as if we were Hollywood stars. Many even touched our hands, bags and equipments as if to convince themselves we were for real.
We left amidst shouts by over-excited children who escorted us in a long procession to our bus. At some point they actually threw stones at our vehicle and ran after it as we left. The aggression, we discovered, was not out of hatred; it's their own way of expressing joy at our visit.
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