Taking suo motu cognisance of a media report on the shortage of TB drugs, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notice to the Union Health and Family Welfare Secretary and Health Secretaries of all States and Union Territories seeking their response on the issue.

The Commission has observed that the contents of the press report, if true, raise serious concerns about the violation of right to health of persons affected with TB.

‘Inform status’

The Union Health Secretary has also been directed to inform the NHRC of the status of the availability of TB drugs in all States as well as steps already taken by the by the Centre to overcome the acute shortage of TB drugs in two categories — paediatrics and drug resistant TB (DR-TB).

It is reported that under the TB treatment programme, the Centre is responsible for buying drugs and distributing them to the States, which then provide treatment. Reportedly, the stock-out is a result of never-ending issues that plague drug procurement and as per the opinion of the experts, unless the government intervenes immediately, such shortage could prove disastrous.

Time to respond

They have been given two weeks’ time to respond.

TB patients, civil society and TB organisations gathered outside the Health Ministry on Wednesday to protest against the ongoing stock-outs of TB medicines that have led to treatment interruptions across the country. A continuous, sustainable supply of quality-assured medicines is vital for TB patients to have even half a chance of being cured. In India, it is the responsibility of the Central TB Division in the Health Ministry to ensure the uninterrupted supply of drugs to the whole country. “As a part of the right to health, a constitutional guarantee to all persons in India, it is the government’s obligation to ensure that the quality TB medicines are accessible and available in sufficient quantity within the country,” said Anand Grover, Director, Lawyers Collective HIV/ AIDS unit.

TB medicine shortages are being reported from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Nagaland and other areas, even as the Health Minister on last Friday issued a press statement denying the stock-outs. In reality, the Health Ministry is finally placing emergency orders for paediatric doses of TB medicines and the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) has written to the states to procure certain TB medicines locally. Emergency approval to procure medicines locally has been given to the States but this has its own set of problems. Besides fragmenting the market and destroying pooling power, procurement is disorganised and not always on time.

“In the past one year, we had written several times to RNTCP and the Health Ministry warning about the imminent stock-outs,” said Blessina Kumar, Patient Advocate and Vice Chair, Stop TB Partnership.

“We are here today to demand answers from the Health Ministry and RNTCP. Why did they let this happen and what are the measures being taken to restore the normal drug supply to the states. We insist on more transparency and monitoring around procurement of TB medicines by the Central TB Division,” said Cassius Singh, TB patient from SAHARA Centre for Residential Care & Rehabilitation, who joined the protest.

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