The Indian government has declared that it plans to tackle Tuberculosis (TB) and the new antibiotic-resistant strains which have emerged recently, looking to carry out an action plan over the next five years as part of the country's Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP).
This is welcome news to a country where TB annually infects about three million people and kills over 300,000. In recent years the estimated death rate per 100,000 people has fallen from 38 in 1990 to 27 in 2010 and 24 in 2011. However despite these advances, the World Health Organization reported in 2012 that out of all developing nations, India places last in regards to TB control, accounting for 26 percent of global TB cases. In many cases, the people infected with TB live in extreme poverty which can impair their ability to access treatment.
In January 2012 a new form of TB called Totally Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (TDR-TB) – infected 12 people in Mumbai. The strain was resistant to every TB treatment available, sounding a small alarm for the healthcare industry. Currently, it is estimated that about two to three percent of the total population of people infected with TB are carrying this strain.
Treatment of TB typically involves a course of antibiotics, which the government provides although the medication is not widely available, especially for people living in remote regions. Critics have suggested that with the new strain such treatment is pointless and the move to preventative measures should be put in place including one of the most basic but effective forms: education. Educating citizens about the disease - how it develops, ways to avoid it and the treatments available - could potentially prevent transmission as well as help break down some of the stigma attached to having the disease.
Given that TB is an airbourne disease, a lack of proper ventilation and poor indoor air quality can contribute to its spread. Improving living conditions in rural areas and building modern, well-ventilated homes are just one factor that can be used to help fight the disease.
The annual economic loss due to TB is $23.7 billion USD. The benefits of introducing stricter prevention measures can not only benefit those who suffer (many of whom are poor or have fallen into poverty due to the disease) but it would also have positive socio-economic implications.
In the 1960s India was internationally recognised as leading the fight against TB in the developing world. Today, the new strains of TB are making treatment of the illness quite difficult, especially for those living in slums and rural regions, where access to medical facilities is limited. Improving diagnosis, treatment and preventative care are some of measures being taken to curb any spread of the disease, and not just b the government. NGOs like TB Alert India have been working to help those in need. They keep tuberculosis constantly in the media and help give people living in remote or rural regions the care and education they need. To offer a donation and help their cause, click here.
Author: Stephen Walsh/ RESET editorial