Tuberculosis (TB) cases spiked in India last year, according to the latest government figures.
This is according to the latest government figures, which indicated that 27 lakh cases were recorded in the country in 2018. This included 21.5 lakh cases notified to the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) compared to eighteen lakh cases notified in 2017. Uttar Pradesh accounted for twenty percent of cases, more than any other state, while India as a whole accounts for 25 percent of the global TB burden.
The number of cases notified to the RNTCP is the highest on record according to Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. However, a significant portion of cases continue to go undetected. “There are still 5.5 lakh TB patients in our country whom we are not being able to find,” he said. Other estimates put the figure higher, at eight lakh undetected cases. In 2016, hitherto undetected TB cases in countries including India compelled the World Health Organization (WHO) to reassess the scope of the global TB burden. The issue of underreporting has persisted: last year, the WHO found that India, Indonesia, and Nigeria collectively accounted for eighty percent of the 3.6 million ‘missing’ TB cases globally.
Vardhan, however, is optimistic concerning the prospects of detecting the currently out-of-reach TB cases. “The good news is that we have the tools now to be able to track them,” he said. Utilising new diagnostics will form a core component of this strategy, as will collaboration and engagement with the private sector who already are accounting for growing numbers of notified TB cases. Of the new cases reported last year, the private sector accounted for 25 percent – a forty percent increase compared to the previous year.
“We have to build a national movement to eliminate the disease,” Vardhan has said. The government approach to the disease will be “multi-sectoral and community-led”, with a fourfold increase in the budget for tackling TB. Screening efforts – which reached 14.4 crore at-risk people and detected 49,733 cases – will be scaled up. Meanwhile, access to treatment is key. Of those diagnosed in 2017, 79 percent completed their treatment regimen while ninety percent of cases detected in 2018 saw treatment provided.
India has set itself an ambitious target of making India TB-free by 2025 – a pledge Prime Minister Narendra Modi reasserted on World TB Day earlier this year. Numerous challenges stand in the way of realising this goal – not least an epidemic of drug resistance threatening the efficacy of existing frontline therapies. Yet Vardhan maintains the government is “confident of achieving our target.” With expanded access to TB services, treatment, and collaboration, the fight against TB is being fought. Whether it is enough to make the disease a thing of the past in India within the next decade remains to be seen.