On 24 March 2016, on the occasion of World Tuberculosis Day, JP Nadda, India’s health minister at the time, announced the launch of bedaquiline in India. Bedaquiline is a new anti-tuberculosis drug that works on patients with drug-resistant TB, or DR-TB. The government announced that it would be giving the drug for free, under a national programme to eliminate TB.
India is home to the most number of TB patients in the world. In 2017, 10 million new cases of TB were reported, of which 2.8 million patients resided in India. The country also has the highest number of patients with DR-TB, an advanced version of the airborne disease. The most powerful antibiotics do not work on such patients. When two of the most powerful antibiotics used to treat TB do not work on a patient, it is known as multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, or MDR-TB. If four main antibiotics do not work, it is known as extremely-drug resistant tuberculosis, or XDR-TB. By the Indian health ministry’s conservative estimates, India has 1,47, 000 DR-TB patients.
In 2012, bedaquiline became the first drug approved by the United States Food and Drug administration to treat DR-TB. Making it available to Indian patients was critical to containing the global pandemic. Nadda’s announcement was keenly followed within the global public-health community, which had been waiting for India to start using the most effective medicine for DR-TB.