March 24, 2006

India reports progress in fight against TB

By Kamil Zaheer

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India, with the world's highest
tuberculosis (TB) caseload, said on Friday it was making good
progress in its grim battle against the infectious disease with
a "dramatic surge" in the number of people being treated.

In 2004, about 1.7 million people died across the globe due
to the primarily respiratory disease of which around 370,000
deaths were in India alone.

But the country has rapidly expanded its treatment coverage
in the past eight years and met a United Nations target which
aims at successful treatment for 85 percent of those detected
with TB.

"Treatment rates have tripled from 25 percent in 1998 to 86
percent in 2004," a health ministry statement said, giving the
latest government data on TB on World TB Day.

"India is on the right track," Health Minister Anbumani
Ramadoss said at a news conference, saying the entire country
was now covered under the World Health Organization plan of
DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment, Short-Course) which is at
the core of the U.N. agency's strategy to fight TB globally.

"After this program, there has been a dramatic surge in
treatment and the entire country has been brought under DOTS,"
Ramadoss said.

DOTS is a multi-level approach that involves government
commitment, patient surveillance and drug treatment.

But India missed another U.N. target for TB that wants
countries to detect 70 percent of those infected.

The health ministry said India's detection rate was 66
percent in 2005. Ramadoss said India would reach the 70 percent
figure "very soon" but did not set a time.

India began an ambitious Revised National Tuberculosis
Control Program (RNTCP) with DOTS as its key in 1997 and said
it had witnessed the fastest expansion of an anti-TB program
among all the 183 countries operating under DOTS.

Due to the expanded DOTS and RNTCP programs, India has
started 5.45 million patients on treatment since 1997 and saved
nearly a million lives, the health ministry said.

India has around one-fifth of the world's new TB caseload
with 1.8 million Indians infected in the country in 2004 out of
a total of 8.9 million new infections globally.

Despite India's rapid-expanding anti-TB program, health
groups say much more needs be done in a country where hundreds
of millions live below the poverty line.

"The 'last mile' between the patients who need treatment
and service delivery points is widely variable throughout the
country," said Bobby John, president of Massive Effort
Campaign, a Swiss-based international advocacy group fighting
TB, malaria and HIV/AIDS.

"Often, the free treatment benefit is negatively offset by
the invisible cost of accessing the treatment in the form of
transport costs and loss of earnings for accompanying family or
community members," John said.

Last week, the WHO unveiled a new strategy to fight TB that
involves expanding existing programs, improving diagnosis and
prevent co-infection with HIV/AIDS.

(Additional Reporting by Nigam Prusty)