July 22, 2012

Operation ASHA

So I am back in “chaotic” Calcutta to attend the new semester of college & there is crazy written all over the place. Classes that seem never to end, boring lectures & the hostel room allotment fiasco – there is so much on my hands that I have not been able to write for several days. Only good feeling these days is the pride on raising my batch mates’ eyebrows by telling them about the experience I gained during my summer internship. I was working for a non-profit, non-Govt. organization called Operation ASHA (OpASHA) for 7 weeks back in Delhi. I have been thinking since then about writing a post about the amazing work done by Operation ASHA (“ASHA” means “hope” in Hindi). So here it is.

The NGO has the mission of eradicating Tuberculosis (TB) from the world over, & with its centers in India & Cambodia & expansion plans for African nations, it is slowly inching closer to its aim. Yet a lot needs to be done & the time for celebration hasn’t come yet. TB as a disease has become one of the biggest scourge of the developing world, killing several million people every year & orphaning several thousand children. One-third of World’s TB population lives in India, & here I shall focus on the Indian context only. The disease is perfectly curable & the medicines & diagnostic facilities are provided by the Govt. of India free of cost under a scheme called RNTCP/DOTS.

The condition is aggravated by the fact that the treatment course takes more than 6 months & most people quit the treatment mid-term (default), leading to complications & drug-resistant TB. This is where OpASHA becomes more efficient than other treatment providers. By employing a huge work force of Counselors who would provide the treatment to the diseased, alongside detecting new patients & motivating the existing ones not to deter from their treatment course, OpASHA tries to minimize default rate to less than 3%, which is much lower than the figures of Govt. of India & other NGOs. I had the opportunity of interacting with several such Counselors & patients.

HOPE - Giri Prasad, a TB patient in New Delhi, is a tailor by profession & hopes to get well within 6-months by completing his treatment course under OpASHA supervision. He wants to get back to his tailoring business & relieve his father (behind) of the pressure of looking after the family.

Oh, I almost forgot, must tell you about my assignment there. I was supposed to write the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for various field operations & tasks. Alongside I did photography for OpASHA & also helped interview patients & Counselors in order to help spread awareness about their suffering in order to raise more funds for the NGO. A large part of my job involved working in coordination with the Counselors & the office staff. The personnel employed by OpASHA were individually very efficient & eager to do their part in community service. Most of them are young & armed with great experience, they are here to make a change.

OpASHA New Delhi staff

OpASHA opened several centers throughout India – in Delhi, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh etc so that patients don’t have to walk for more than 10 minutes from their residence to take the medicines (TB treatment under WHO guidelines specifies that patients consume the drugs under the supervision of a trained personnel to prevent missed-doses, most patients avoid medicines & quit the treatment because of the side effects involved). The NGO soon aims to reach the tribal population too. This is going to be a new challenge for the organization as most of the tribal groups don’t even have a recognized dialect or written script. The organization tracks its patients by a unique system called eCOMPLIANCE, developed in association with Microsoft, where through small laptops & fingerprint readers all patients are registered to a central database & their attendance marked whenever they visit OpASHA center to consume the medicine (on their scheduled time of course). At the end of the day the data is updated to the central record system via an internet connection & simple phone text messages are sent automatically to the concerned Counselors regards their absentee patients & they then visit the patient’s home to administer medicines. The staff is proud of this system of Biometric mapping, which is a brainchild of the CEO Sandeep Ahuja. An entire team of technocrats is devoted to the upkeep & upgrade of the system.

When I visited the urban slums of Delhi, I saw poverty which I cannot describe in words. The suffering, the misery, the pain & desolation of patients would move anyone. The centers are located at places where there are electricity cuts for more than 4 days at a stretch, water supply is erratic, medical facilities are non-existent, education is but a distant dream & poverty & malnourishment abound in every corner. The shadow of death lurks in every corner. I tried to capture some of the emotions through my camera, yet it was a task next-to-impossible.

DESPAIR - Diagnosed with TB second time within a single year of being cured, Vipin Jha is battling malnourishment & a growing feeling of despair. The sole breadwinner of a family consisting of 4 daughters, all less than 10 years of age, & wife, he is now bedridden. If not provided with food immediately, his chances of survival are low.

OpASHA is doing a really commendable job & we must all show solidarity with the patients by helping the organization expand its operations base by contributing monetarily. I feel that all of us should donate to OpASHA whatever amount we could muster, no matter how minimal, & help them help our fellow men & women in distress. Please see the following link for the same –

Donate to Operation ASHA

Photos © Sahil Ahuja/Operation ASHA


  1. thanks for shedding light on this operation that is out to help those inflicted with TB... indeed, it is not an easy thing trying to eradicate a disease that is so wide-spread, but i commend opASHA for doing a wonderful job,and to you for sharing this with the world~
    I only wish that one day i could contribute to a good cause just as those staff in the photograph up there have.

  2. Udbhav VikasSeptember 29, 2014

    Friggin' awsum effort! :) wish i cud've been a part of it as well..