Health in the workplace

India: Battling TB in the world of work

Tuberculosis, one of the world's leading causes of death, often strikes people in their prime working years. Workplaces have a critical role to play in its prevention, treatment and care.

Feature | 09 April 2018
Preeti Sawant, 39, a Mumbai resident, battled with multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) for two years before she was declared disease-free in September 2017.
© A.Bishnoi/ILO 2018 
MUMBAI (ILO News) – Preeti Sawant, 39, battled with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB) for two years until she was declared free of the disease in September 2017. She says it was like “going to hell and back” but that she had strong support, not only from her family, but also from her workplace.

Sawant works as an assistant in the legal department of BEST, Mumbai’s state-run public transport and electricity provider. After she was diagnosed with TB, the chief medical officer told her the company provided for paid leave of up to one year for employees suffering from TB.

"TB took a toll on my health, morale and family life. My daughter lost a year in school while I couldn’t help her with her studies, but then I was also lucky that I had job security and that someone at the workplace was monitoring my health,” says Sawant.

TB took a toll on my health, morale and family life.... but then I was also lucky that I had job security and that someone at the workplace was monitoring my health.”

Preeti Sawant
A debilitating infectious disease, TB is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide. Every year, more than 10 million people contract TB, and India accounts for more than a quarter of the cases, according to the WHO. Many of the patients are of working age.

 “The world of work can play a critical role in ending TB in India by promoting early diagnosis, quality treatment, and extending the support needed by those affected by TB,” says Dagmar Walter, Director of the ILO Decent Work Team for South Asia. “Employers can be supportive of workers who are affected by this curable disease. Employers should ensure that there is no discrimination, that workers would not lose their jobs, and that they would be looked after so that employees are empowered to cope with TB and return to their jobs.”

The ILO supported the development of a national policy framework to address TB and HIV in the world of work in India, in collaboration with the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), as part of USAID’s ‘Challenge TB Project.’ “We have existing partnerships on HIV and AIDS with large corporate houses in the country. This model, fully-owned by companies and implemented at their own cost, can be adapted to include TB as well,” says Walter.

The world of work can play a critical role in ending TB in India.”

Dagmar Walter, Director of the ILO Decent Work Team for South Asia
Surendrakumar Bagde, the General Manager at BEST – which has more than 40,000 employees – says the company ensures “effective measures for early detection and diagnosis as well as appropriate treatment for an adequate duration with extraordinary benefits.”

Some companies, including BEST, also allow for reassigning duties in case a worker affected by TB or HIV needs it, following ILO’s policy guidelines of reasonable accommodation.

A good workplace policy on TB has multiple benefits. It can help keep the worker on the job, which in turn helps in treatment adherence and reducing stigma.