By Rachel V. Thomas
New Delhi, Mar 24 (IANS): India's END tuberculosis (TB) programme, that is committed to making India Tuberculosis-free by 2025, five years ahead of the global target of 2030, is an ambitious goal, a herculean task, but certainly achievable, said experts on World TB day.
World Tuberculosis Day is observed every year on March 24. "Yes! We can end TB!" is the theme for this year, and urges leaders from around the world to act to stop the TB epidemic.A
India has about 3.1 million tuberculosis patients and approximately 2,000 patients are diagnosed with TB yearly.
The Pradhan Mantri's TB Mukt Bharat Abhiyan "is a very ambitious goal" and India is facing a "herculean task" to keep up with its commitment, Dr Vishal Rao, Fellow at Royal Society of Medicine (London), and Director at head neck surgical oncology department at HealthCare Global Cancer Centre, told IANS.
"For TB to be eliminated, there should be less than one case for every 1 million in the country. Today, at the current rate, we are seeing a decline in the incidence of TB of 1.5 per cent, which needs to accelerate to more than 15 per cent each year. So, we have a very daunting task with us at hand, and with only two years left the decline rate of TB cases needs to go much higher," said Rao, who is also part of a consultative group to the Principal Scientific Advisor to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"In my opinion, Prime Minister Modi's call to END TB by 2025 is outstanding. And I think it is achievable. One is the fact that we already see a lot of cases being notified from India. And a lot of push to work on prevention, which for sure will lead to a decrease in incidence and we already have noticed that," Dr. Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director, Stop TB Partnership, told IANS.
She said that India has shown a lot of acepolitical commitment" which has resulted in providing nutritional support to people with TB, updated data to see how many people with the disease were found, diagnosed and treated up till yesterday.
One of the major challenges ahead of India is that more than half of the TB cases do not get detected, Rao said.
For this, he suggested strengthening peripheral Primary Health Centre (PHC) programmes focusing on detecting TB and stronger mass media campaigns that would raise awareness, and allocate more funds to the National TB Elimination Programme for improved manpower, awareness campaigns, counselling, and detection.A
Another challenge is high tobacco usage in the country, which is an omnipresent yet preventable risk.
More than 20 per cent of global TB cases and 40 per cent of Indian cases can be attributed to tobacco usage.
Rao suggested implementing stringent policies to counter the tobacco industry, reduce the prevalence of tobacco consumption especially, among the youth; protect lung health by strengthening tobacco control programmes, especially smoke-free policies.
He also stressed the need to promote healthy lifestyle practices, and make the youth aware of the harmful effects of tobacco; and adopting innovative measures, increased action, and multi-sector collaborations to control tobacco use and fight TB.
"I think India will achieve the goal to end TB" because of its approach of "going at a very granular and peripheral level", Ditiu said.
However, access should be secured for every single person. A decentralised approach is needed to ensure access to everyone even at the village level, she suggested.
The country also needs to "maintain the political pressure, and then the financial resources to do this because the investments needed for this will be very huge and should be sustained".
"It's not that you have a jump in 2024. And then you are relaxed. Basically, we have two more years for India to push on this up to the end of 2025. So let's hope that the political commitment and the financial resources will come," Ditiu said.