Tuberculosis (TB) came out of the shadows recently, when India’s most celebrated superstar Amitabh Bachchan announced in his new role as TB Ambassador, that he was a TB survivor. Even though TB afflicts more than two million Indians each year, high social stigma means that such public admissions are rare. Last month, one of India’s most popular TV shows, Satyamev Jayate, devoted an entire episode on TB bringing unprecedented public and political attention to the disease with shocking patient stories of neglect, systemic delays and rising drug resistance.
You may watch the entire episode here
TB has remained India’s neglected health crisis for almost two decades, but is no longer. India’s last Minister of Health changed this when at the Union Lung Conference, he called for a renewed mission to fight TB in India. He described the mission as one that would focus on engaging and empowering communities, addressing the social dimensions of TB such as poverty and nutrition; and creating partnerships between the public sector and the vast unregulated private sector to ensure that every patient has access to free accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. India’s new leadership on this disease, was met with much applause globally.
India’s commitment to comprehensively address TB is already evident in new strategies being implemented at the state levels. These include innovative public–private partnership models in places varying from Mumbai, India’s business center, to Patna, the capital city of the state of Bihar, and even Mehsana, the home district in Gujarat of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These strategies are showing encouraging results and could transform the way India’s diagnoses and treats TB. In these projects, private providers use mobile phones to call a contact center to notify TB cases and ensure that patients receive free and appropriate treatment through e-vouchers. In just the first few months, over 3000 patients have been diagnosed and put on treatment through these initiatives. These innovative strategies are bringing previously-unreported privately-treated TB patients into the light of public health services, where care and adherence can be monitored. These emerging models reflect the kind of efforts needed to control TB in India, and are expected to reduce patient costs, improve support and adherence, and consequently improve treatment outcomes.
The increased public attention, political commitment, and innovative solutions are generating much optimism and momentum around controlling TB in India. It’s increasingly possible that the bold vision and promises being made may finally get the support needed to make them real. This would be very good news for TB patients in India and also TB control globally.