Can India be TB- Free by 2025 ?

As India is gearing up to observe World Tuberculosis (TB) Day on March 24, the big question that needs the answer is- Can India be TB-free by March 25? Indian Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan would make believe that the government has been making all efforts to achieve this target. He pointed out TB as a critical health challenge in India that has prompted the political leadership to target its elimination by 2025. The Government is mulling  an extensive nationwide Jan Andolan (Mass Moverment) to enhance awareness about not only the disease, but its treatment with the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders across the centre and States/UTs

Dr Harsh Vardhan has recently assumed the Chairmanship of the Board of Stop TB Partnership and this responsibility gives him a yet another global platform to working towards eliminating another killer disease.  

“Tuberculosis continues to be one of India’s most critical health challenges which may have devastating health, social and financial consequences for the patients and communities at large. With an estimated 2.64 million TB patients, India has the largest burden of TB globally in terms of absolute numbers,” he said, while addressing the Board members on Thursday. 

On efforts by the Government, he said that over the past few years, India has significantly ramped up India’s diagnostic capacity for TB. “Our National TB Elimination Programme deployed all possible efforts to ensure uninterrupted #TB services across the country. Initial responses were focused on essential services such as ensuring uninterrupted supply of drugs for patients on treatment and maintaining diagnostic services,” said Dr Harsh Vardhan.

“Innovative approaches were adopted, including the use of community health workers to aid in specimen collection and transportation and home delivery of TB medicines. The Program was improvised based on need and embraced the use of technology for treatment adherence monitoring, and real-time community-led monitoring initiatives for COVID-19 and TB,” he added. 

The Government has set up one rapid molecular diagnostic facility available in each district and are aiming to decentralize it down to the block level. All Oral Regimens and newer drugs for effective treatment of Drug-Resistant TB have also been introduced. Indian health systems not only focus on the detection and treatment of TB disease but also try to address all co-morbidities and social determinants of the TB patients and working rigorously towards the prevention of the disease.

“In the last three years, more than ₹1000 crores (around 137 million USD) have been disbursed as Direct Benefit Transfer for nutritional support to TB patients,” the Minister added.

On the challenges faced by India’s TB Elimination Program during the Pandemic, Dr. Harsh Vardhan spoke on the Rapid Response Plan that was developed and shared with all States/UTs. Bi-directional screening of TB and COVID19 was initiated to aid in case of a finding of both the diseases with 24% of the TB patients having knowledge of their #COVID19 status in 2020.

According to the Minister, constant engagement with all stakeholders will help the country to achieve this ambitious goal with the most productive, efficient and targeted utilization of resources.