De-duplicating migrant patients with tuberculosis: the dangers of “native place”

A set of articles recently sent me by friends have inspired the next several postings. This article was sent by Harris Solomon, from the DNA news website published today, 22 June.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis

UID numbers to record progress of TB patients

To keep track of the number of tuberculosis cases, a unique identification (UID) number was set to be issued to new TB patients from July 15, state health department sources revealed.

The scheme will be implemented across the country and will help doctors mete out the necessary treatment after referring to the digitised records to be available nationally. It will prove beneficial to migrant patients who often fail to avail the complete treatment after they move to their native places.

Dr Mini Khetarpal, TB officer, BMC, said, “This process will help us analyse the situation better. We will concentrate on prospective cases as per directions from the Centre, not old ones. Our officials underwent a day-long training in Pune about a month ago.”

She added that the digitisation program is currently being modified in Delhi after feedback from the World Health Organisation

The new system is specially designed to target migrant multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB patients and help doctors keep a tab on the treatment they have already received. It will also prevent duplication of UID numbers as their Aadhar card number will be mentioned as well.

The state has recorded 1,34,000 TB patients out of which 50% have contracted pulmonary TB for the first time. 25% cases are instances of recurrent TB while the remaining 25% have contracted extra pulmonary TB.

There is a lot here to think through, and as ever with this project one’s knowledge is limited and learning curve steep. For example, the article differentiates the “UID [universal identification database] number” from the “Aadhaar [identity card] number” (huh?) and argues that having both of these is necessarily to resist the threat that this blog has wrestled with from the beginning, that of duplication. So perhaps the next posting can clarify this doubling, assuming the article is correct, of the very number (Aadhaar/UID) whose uniqueness was to guarantee the promise of the de-duplicated nation. As with the earlier tussle between the Finance and Interior Ministries over who controls the national database, I want to suggest a familiar theme, that the Ur-database necessary to guarantee India’s de-duplicated, deterritorialized, de-corrupted promise is itself constantly being threatened with duplicates.

But let’s focus on three issues, as ever, for now.

(1) Biopolitics: at stake, first and foremost, appears to be a presumptively more effective means of health surveillance that can take account of the migrant status of persons taking medication for tuberculosis. TB patients will be registered for UID/Aadhaar. Registration will give doctors both aggregate information and patient-specific information. The latter will enable tracking patients as TB patients migrate.

The direction of migration noted is not rural-to-urban but rather urban-to-rural. Why only urban-to-rural migrants are a problem is not specified. Is there a presumption of less drug availability, less clinical knowledge, less data, or less effective adherence? Interesting that the return to the local “native place” becomes the clinical problem to be addressed.

Rural-to-urban migrants: not the clinical concern?

In my limited experience, patients in urban north India over the decades I have worked in clinical settings were far more likely than in the US to have control over their medical file, producing sections of it in doctors’ offices in order to create a range of desired clinical outcomes: files, that is, in theory migrated with patients anyway. TB differs, possibly for many reasons: adherence control in the face of drug resistance may mandate more intensive surveillance. Mobile medical knowledge, it would seem, can no longer depend upon patient-driven file mobility.

(2) Biopolitics and information failure: In the Maharashtrian case, the article implies that adherence failures and drug resistance may be due to a situation of information failure.

This is an idea worth thinking carefully about: that biopolitics is a matter of information adequacy in the face of certain forms of population migration. It develops the theme of deterritorialization: that UID/Aadhaar enables more flexible relations to place. Here surveillance is no longer a matter of the body fixed in its slum, repeatedly observed. The unit of analysis is now the ID number in a mobile trajectory. Somehow, the return to the village, to the native place, presents a particular clinical-informational deficit that the ID number must supplement.

What might it entail that fleshly conditions become digital conditions? I am not sure that there is much new here: surely the history of medicine long engages the relation of the sickness to the form of its representation.

Digital human lungs, for your consideration

(3) International informational standards: the WHO is positioned as an auditor here, and the Government of India must adjust its digitization accordingly. It would be interesting to think about the international governance of digitization, and how power here is organized and distributed.

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3 thoughts on “De-duplicating migrant patients with tuberculosis: the dangers of “native place”

  1. It is hard to see how the incidence of tuberculosis in India can be reduced until the matter of public sanitation is taken seriously. Until then, supposed efforts to reduce tuberculosis in that country are in themselves only political shows.

  2. Pingback: “The Mumbai Episode”: Big Data in the Wake of the Total Failure of Tuberculosis Treatment | followuidai

  3. Pingback: Mega web roundup | Somatosphere

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