New Delhi, Sep 23 (PTI) Asserting that India has accorded high priority to ending tuberculosis by 2025, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday said the number of missing TB patients significantly reduced from 1 million in 2016 to less than 0.5 million in 2019.
Addressing ministers of WHO member nations, heads and representatives of UN agencies and partner organizations via video conference, Vardhan spoke on India's role and contribution towards strengthening multisectoral action and progress towards ending TB, especially in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.
'Under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has accorded high priority for ending tuberculosis by 2025, five years ahead of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG),' he said 'Tuberculosis has been in existence since time immemorial and continues to remain a major global public health problem. Despite the progress made over the last decade, TB remains the leading infectious killer disease worldwide,' the minister was quoted as saying in an official statement.
Lauding India's efforts towards eradication of tuberculosis, Vardhan said with bold and innovative policies supported by commensurate resources, India has taken several critical steps towards ending the disease.
'We have significantly reduced the number of missing TB patients from one million in 2016 to less than 0.5 million in 2019, with 2.4 million cases notified during the year,' Vardhan said.
Most importantly, a third of these notifications were contributed by the private sector, he said.
'With the scale-up of rapid molecular diagnostics in every district of the country, we were able to identify over 66,000 drug-resistant TB patients in 2019.' About the COVID-19 pandemic, Vardhan said it has 'brought a dramatic shift in our lives in more ways than one'.
He pointed out how public discourse on health has now taken centre stage.
'There is heightened public health awareness among the public today. COVID-19 and its highly contagious nature have created a huge health-related risk perception across the globe,' Vardhan said.
The Union health minister also highlighted India's role and contribution towards ending TB in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, and the multi-sectoral actions taken by India to curb and manage the pandemic in the country.
'I would say the COVID-19 pandemic has given us the opportunity to structurally re-imagine our core public health delivery systems. Innovations, such as doorstep delivery of drugs to TB patients, teleconsultation, active screening for TB through outreach activities etc. have proved to be a boon for many patients during the lockdown,' Vardhan said.
'We are also observing that from a mere patient-centric care approach, the systems may need strengthening around community-centric health approaches. Social and environmental determinants need to be addressed in the process too,' he said.
Disease surveillance and enforcing public health regulations will become rigorous and not remain a matter of individual choice, Vardhan said.
'We all know that the onset of the pandemic has resulted in setbacks to case finding efforts during the lockdown period, but as soon as it was lifted, case finding numbers have started rising. In fact, we reached a historic low in April with lockdown in full force, but through sustained efforts, we have managed an increase of 43 per cent in May and another 25 per cent in June,' Vardhan said.
'As we gradually unlock the country we will be back in full gear. To mitigate the impact, we have been issuing constant advisories to the states to ensure convergence of TB case finding with COVID-19 efforts,' he said.
Vardhan also underlined that poverty is a powerful determinant of tuberculosis and undernutrition an important risk factor of developing active TB disease.
'To address this, we are providing cash incentives through Direct Benefit Transfers for nutritional support and since April 2018, Rs 7.9 billion (around USD 110 million) have been distributed to over 3 million beneficiaries. Affordable and quality TB care is a priority for our government,' he asserted.
Vardhan reaffirmed the commitment of the Indian government to TB elimination and assured that the government has accorded topmost priority to this agenda.
He informed the participants that various steps have been taken by the government to boost the confidence of the public so that they join with complete enthusiasm to make this into a 'citizens' movement'.
'Community engagement is the hallmark of fighting a pandemic and we are ensuring this happens,' the minister said. PTI ASK NSD