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Prestigious scholarship for TB activist Nandita Venkatesan

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Nandita Venkatesan, a tuberculosis (TB) survivor, journalist and activist from Mumbai, India, has been awarded a prestigious scholarship to Oxford University to study Public Policy.

Nandita was a keynote speaker at last year’s 50th Union World Conference on Lung Health and she has received the Chevening-Weidenfeld Hoffman Trust Scholarship. She will begin her studies at Keble College, Oxford, UK, later this month.

Announcing the news on Twitter today, Nandita, wrote:

(1/n) I am overwhelmed to inform you that I’ve been awarded Chevening - Weidenfeld Hoffmann Trust Scholarship to pursue Masters of Public Policy from @UniofOxford, starting this month. (PC: @Ninjav281 ).

‘Sometimes people with the WORST pasts can create a better future!’?:')

— Nandita Venkatesan (@nandita_venky) September 3, 2020

Sharing a photo of herself in a hospital bed, she continued in a series of tweets: “This was me, couple of yrs back, fighting hard for my life against an infectious disease – Tuberculosis. Its only stories & nos. until it hits you! The sudden hearing loss (due to an inj) that happened mths later felt like the final nail on the coffin.

“‘Normal life’ was a distant dream, as for yrs, I could see nothing else but pain, isolation, fights & failure, with my professional & personal dreams falling apart. Parallely, a terrifying financial crisis developed in the fam, due to high out-of-pocket medical expenses.

“On one my OPD visits, I clearly remember telling a doctor, ‘Who needs wars, guns, bombs, when an unseen bacteria is enuf (sic) to ravage lives’. Little did I know that my words will turn out to be prophetic, this year!

“The unfolding Coronavirus pandemic – over 60k lives lost, 1 cr job losses – should be a BIG wake up call for everyone to strengthen our healthcare systems. Remember, a health crisis is never restricted to health. It heavily impacts social, economic and mental well-being.

“Let nothing distract you from the fact that our health systems need to be made more equitable and accessible! Common lives are at stake here!

“On a personal note, my father’s reaction (a man of few words) to my scholarship sums up the mood: "Your life remains a mystery to us! Nobody in our 'entire' family has gone thru what you have, but no one has also managed to achieve the things you have" :)

In 2018 Nandita spoke at the first ever UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on Tuberculosis. Speaking at the time she said: “It's humbling. Not long ago I was just a girl lying in bed with a hopeless future. I never thought I'd get out of bed, let alone fly to New York.”

Last year, Nandita electrified spoke during the opening ceremony of the Union World Conference on Lung Health, which was held for the first time in India. In her address, she called for urgent action from governments to end TB, and, for people with lived experience of TB to be placed at the centre of global decision making on TB.

The speech followed an engaging solo performance she gave of a Shiva-inspired dance, all the more remarkable because Nandita is deaf and relies on counting and memory to be able to perform, which she dedicated to “the exemplary courage and strength displayed by millions of my fellow TB survivors.”

Watch Nandita’s dance and speech.