In connection with World Tuberculosis (TB) Day on Friday, a candlelight vigil was organised at India Gate, paying tribute to the nearly 5 lakh patients who succumbed to the disease last year. The tuberculosis epidemic affects 28 lakh Indians; another 79,000 people suffer from type of TB resistant to most antibiotics.
India has come under criticism from the global public health community for giving inaccurate estimates of the tuberculosis burden between 2000 and 2015. In a TED Talk on ‘India’s Tuberculosis crisis’, Zarir F Udwadia, a leading expert on TB and chest physician at the Hinduja Hospital & Research Centre, Mumbai, called it, “Ebola with wings.”
Tuberculosis is a contagious infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis and it usually attacks the lungs. It can also spread to other parts of the body like the brain and spine. Tuberculosis is contagious and spreads through the air, much like cold or flu. Public health experts maintain that the unchecked rise of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) in India will threaten the progress made globally. “Our real crisis is drug resistance and nearly 1 in every 5 cases I see has primary resistance. We do not have any preparation to deal with DR TB. I feel optimistic that the government is showing interest but the Health Ministry’s targets are unrealistic with current budgets and strategies. There is no way India will eliminate TB by 2025,” said Chapal Mehra, a public health specialist.
According to the Health Ministry, 17.5 lakh TB patients and 33,820 DR TB patients were notified in 2016 from public and private health. The two new WHO recommended drugs for DR TB, Delaminid & Bedaquiline, are not currently available in Indian national TB programme. While Delaminid is yet to be registered in India, Bedaquiline is available at only 6 States in the country, under compassionate use. “People living with MDR and XDR-TB are not receiving adequate treatment in India. One drug is not registered at all. The other one is available only in 6 States and all too often patients die before they can access the medication,” said Paul Lhungdim, a patient activist with The Delhi Network of Positive People.
Meanwhile, the Indian government will soon be releasing the National Strategic Plan for TB Control (2017-2025), with an overarching framework to achieving the elimination goal. Speaking on the occasion of World TB Day, Kalikesh Singh Deo, a Member of Parliament engaged with TB, said that, “India cannot address its TB epidemic until it increases its budgets and transforms the TB programme. With an Indian dying of TB at every minute we can no longer wait,” he says in his message.