Tuberculosis, colloquially known as the ‘white death,’ has plagued humanity for centuries, persistently claiming lives and leaving a trail of devastation. Despite remarkable progress in healthcare, TB remains a formidable threat, surpassing smallpox, plague, cholera and influenza combined in its toll on human life. With over a million deaths annually, TB stands as the leading infectious killer worldwide, with India bearing a particularly heavy burden, accounting for 27 per cent of all TB cases globally. 

As we strive towards a ‘TB-free India’ urgent action is needed to intensify research, innovation, and advocacy efforts to accelerate the battle against this debilitating disease. 

Freedom of breath

The National Strategic Plan for Tuberculosis Elimination (2017-2025) sets ambitious targets for reducing TB incidence, prevalence, and mortality rates by 2025. The government’s initiatives, including deploying state-of-the-art Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) machines and Pradhan Mantri TB Mukt Bharat Abhiyan, exemplify a concerted effort to combat this disease. Notably, more than 78,000 Ni-kshay Mitras (donors) have supported around a million patients as of 2023. Despite progress, India faces multifaceted challenges in its battle against TB, including poverty, population growth, among others.

Therefore, addressing two issues on an immediate basis is of utmost necessity in the war against TB:

High-risk behaviours among TB patients in India pose significant challenges, leading to the emergence of drug-resistant strains. The National TB Prevalence Survey (2019-2021) reveals that nearly 64 per cent of symptomatic individuals avoid seeking medical help due to ignorance, stigma, and financial constraints. Premature treatment cessation exacerbates the issue, fostering the development of drug-resistant strains like multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug resistant TB (XDR-TB).

Addressing deep-seated cultural, economic, and knowledge barriers is imperative. Targeted awareness campaigns and comprehensive door-to-door surveys play pivotal roles in identifying potential TB cases. Training healthcare professionals to enhance disease awareness and ensure treatment adherence is equally crucial in combating these resistant strains. By addressing these multifaceted challenges, we can effectively mitigate the cycle of suffering and strengthen efforts against TB in India.

Enhancing accessibility and adherence: As longstanding advocates in the pharmaceutical realm, our steadfast dedication to combating tuberculosis underscores our commitment to advancing global health. India’s prominent role in addressing healthcare challenges is exemplified by our persistent efforts to improve accessibility and adherence in TB treatment. Recent strides in making high-quality drugs more accessible mark a significant leap forward in ensuring equitable healthcare access for all.

By prioritising shorter treatment regimens and implementing robust adherence initiatives, we are reshaping the landscape of TB treatment, fostering a culture of patient-centered care and improving treatment outcomes. Our collective endeavours not only reflect our unwavering commitment to eradicating TB but also highlight India’s leadership in driving transformative change in healthcare accessibility and adherence practices worldwide. Through collaborative efforts and innovative strategies, we are forging a path toward a future where TB is no longer a global health threat, but a relic of the past.

Collective advocacy remains key

Let us draw inspiration from the timeless words of physician Avicenna, who wisely proclaimed, “There are no incurable diseases, only the lack of will.” These words echo the boundless potential that arises when human determination intersects with scientific ingenuity.

Today, the pharmaceutical sector stands as a formidable force, ready to reshape the landscape of TB care by redefining access to affordable medications. It is imperative for us to forge ahead with increased investments in research and innovation, bolstered by a renewed commitment from government bodies, industry leaders, and non-profit organisations alike.

Together, let’s envision and work towards a future where the dream of a ‘TB-free India’ is not just a possibility, but a resolute reality. With collective advocacy and unwavering dedication, we can turn this vision into a triumphant achievement, ensuring a healthier and brighter tomorrow for generations to come.

The writer is President-India Region Formulations, Lupin Ltd