New Delhi, India – India Tuesday launched a major campaign to increase awareness of tuberculosis as an expert slammed the government’s shortcomings in tackling the disease which kills about 1,000 Indians daily.
On World Tuberculosis Day, the government and health groups unveiled the campaign fronted by Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan to combat the disease in India, which accounts for one quarter of new global cases annually.
But an article in the British Medical Journal criticised a chronic shortage of funds and the government’s inability to regulate an “exploitive” private health sector.
The article, published online on Monday, called for massive investment in public health infrastructure to diagnose and treat what it called India’s biggest health crisis.[pq]India accounts for an estimated 2.2 million of the 8.6 million new cases of tuberculosis that occur globally each year, according to the World Health Organization.[/pq]
More than 300,000 people die in India of the airborne-disease annually.
The article by Zarir F. Udwadia, a doctor at one of Mumbai’s biggest private hospitals, said the government’s TB programme was failing to monitor the burgeoning private health sector.
“This is where most patients with TB seek initial care despite extensive evidence of inaccurate diagnostics and inappropriate treatment,” said Udwadia.
“Patients with TB in India typically flit between an unsympathetic public sector and an exploitative private sector until they are too sick or impoverished to do so, all the while continuing to transmit and spread tuberculosis in crowded home and work environments.”
India’s anti-TB programme has spent a “derisory” five billion rupees ($80 million) annually on tackling the disease, the least among the BRICS group of developing nations, he said.
Health ministry secretary (top official) B.P Sharma said India was taking “giant steps forward” towards addressing the disease through more innovative detection and more accessible treatment, but conceded “there are many challenges that remain”.
Sharma pointed to the more than 60,000 cases in India of drug-resistant and extreme drug-resistant cases — costly to treat and with low survival rates.
Bachchan, who has himself battled the disease, will front the publicity campaign on early detection, while other initiatives include a user-friendly website on TB prevention and control.
Udwadia said India has been congratulated for improved efforts in recent years, including better laboratory and hospital facilities and access to more advanced drugs, after the increased number of drug-resistant TB cases sparked concern.
“Despite these positive developments, the general perception remains that India’s TB programme has failed to control disease and to reach out to poor and marginalised people who need its help most,” said Udwadia, a public health specialist.
A group of experts recently wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to treat TB as a national emergency, he added.
– Trudy Harris, AFP News