The results of the first anti-tuberculosis drug resistance survey in India indicate that the country’s national tuberculosis-control programme is ill-equipped to detect the drug-resistant strains prevalent in India. The report, which was released in March this year, reveals that nearly a quarter of India’s new tuberculosis patients are resistant to at least one of 13 drugs used for its treatment, whereas the control programme only accounts for resistance to one particular drug. “Resistance to certain drugs such as isoniazid are ignored by the system,” Dr Yogesh Jain, one of the founder members of Jan Swasthya Sahyog, a community health organisation in Bilaspur, in Chhattisgarh, said. “If the objective is to diagnose drug-resistant tuberculosis, then the algorithm used by the programme is inappropriate.”
The health ministry enrolled a total of 5,280 tuberculosis patients—3,240 new patients and 2,040 who were previously treated—for the drug-resistance survey, which was conducted from July 2014 till May 2016. The survey sought to study the proportion of patients suffering from multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, or MDR-TB, among the patients treated under the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme—a central-government initiative to arrest the spread of the disease. MDR-TB refers to tuberculosis that does not respond to the two powerful first-line drugs—rifampicin and isoniazid—and a person afflicted with it requires second-line treatment, which comprises drugs that are more aggressive and require a longer regimen.
On 24 March this year, four years after initiating the survey and 11 days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Delhi END TB Summit, the union health ministry released the report. Several international dignitaries, including the health ministers of over 20 countries, and the WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom, were in attendance at the summit, where Modi declared, “I am confident that India can be free of TB by 2025.”