Overcrowding in hospitals, malnutrition, unhygienic tropical environs heighten problem in India

Fungal infections kill close to 1.3 million people globally every year, matching the mortality rate of AIDS, cancer, malaria and tuberculosis, and also cause blindness to 300 million people annually.

The magnitude of the problem is particularly serious in India because of overcrowding in hospitals, malnutrition and unhygienic tropical environs, Professor Arunaloke Chakrabarti from the Department of Microbiology at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research told reporters here on Wednesday.

“But our challenge goes beyond mere numbers. The majority of our clinicians are poorly trained to recognise and manage these infections; most microbiology laboratories across the country lack even basic infrastructure and training to provide diagnostic support or monitor antifungal resistance and most antifungal drugs remain prohibitively expensive. Worse, there is hardly any research in the area.”

From the limited data available in India, among the three major fungal infections in hospitals, the prevalence of candidemia (300-500 cases per year) at any tertiary care institute (with 1,500 beds) is more than what obtains in the whole of Australia. Unhygienic handling by healthcare staff causes invasive candidemia and the infection flows right up to the blood stream.

“Up to 60 per cent of invasive infections, majority of which can be prevented with timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment, eventually kill a patient. In fact, a million farmers get blind due to fungal keratitis in India, 17-30 million suffer from asthma and 1.7-4.7 million suffer from allergic asthma, also caused by fungal infections,” Professor Chakrabarti explained.

With a view to addressing these issues, international experts have come together and launched two initiatives — Leading International Fungal Education (LIFE) and Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections (GAFFI) — to improve fungal infections outcomes in patients through awareness and education and access to appropriate antifungal therapies.

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