World Tuberculosis Day 2013: How India’s faring in the battle against TB

Damning as these statistics, in Jan 2012 last year things got even uglier as India played host to an extremely dangerous version of tuberculosis which experts termed Totally Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (TDR-TB) – a disease that afflicted 12 people in Mumbai. This new version of TB was resistant to all forms of anti-TB drugs and unlike earlier drug resistant versions like multi-drug resistant (resistant to two drugs) and extensively-drug resistant (resistant to four drugs). What was dangerous was that not only was it resistant to every known TB drug but it had afflicted people in a densely populated city like Mumbai where the potential for an outbreak was immense.

Why we need to be worried?

The problem with a disease like tuberculosis is multi-fold. For starters, when TDR-TB landed on Indian soils the government went into complete denial mode refusing to believe that such a disease exists. The current government programme wasn’t equipped to handle or even detect any form of multiple-drug resistant TB which caused delayed diagnosis allowing the disease to spread in a city like Mumbai where people live cheek-by-jowl. Rough estimates suggest that even one undetected TB patient could affect 10-15 more people in one year.

With the government unable to provide medical services, the patients turned to private practitioners who only aggravated the situation with some of them prescribing incorrect drugs in wrong doses which actually worsened the diseased and also made the strain more resistant to the drugs prescribed. Finally the government did get their act together and rolled out new tests including a machine called the GeneXpert which can detect TB in a matter of hours.

But the problem isn’t just having these facilities in place but utilising them. For starters, millions – in rural and urban India – have no access to even the basic healthcare services which coupled with lack of awareness means that we are always sitting on a powder keg of an infectious disease outbreak.

What needs to be done to contain the disease?

What the government needs to do is increase awareness about the disease, treatment methods and also awareness about how the disease spreads. There’s also the growing disconnect between the private and public sector in healthcare which needs to be bridged through public-private partnerships because even now, 70% of all TB patients are being treated by the private sector. Also any new treatment methods need to be shared with private practitioners to ensure that the same treatment is being used for all multiple drug resistant TB cases. So on World Tuberculosis Day, let’s stop living like ostriches and take a vow to end TB in our lifetime because believe us when we say this – the battle against tuberculosis needs a lot of soldiers and ammunition.

Source :      2013/4/27 10:15

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