As India marked its 69th Independence Day, it fills us with pride to think about the progress the nation has made. However, there are a number of challenges we need to address to attain more inclusive and equitable growth.
Public health is one such challenge that needs urgent attention. Access to affordable and quality healthcare remains elusive to a large section of our population and infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis (TB), loom large and continue to threaten the well-being of millions. It is a sad but an unfortunate reality that India has the largest TB burden in the world with 2.1 million new cases emerging in the country every year out of the nine million cases globally.
Significant progress has been made in reducing the incidence of TB in the past two decades, but the burden of the disease remains at epidemic proportions. An intensified focus with increased investment is needed to reduce the TB burden.
The ministry of health and family welfare’s Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) needs an urgent influx of funds to address the shortcomings of the programme in order to ensure appropriate TB prevention and control measures. The Joint Monitoring Mission (JMM) meeting in April, which brought together government officials as well as national and international experts to review the progress of the RNTCP, reaffirmed the need to more than double the annual funding from Rs 700 crore to Rs 1,500 crore to address the various deficiencies in the programme.
Another key area to streamline funds would be on research and development of accurate, more cost-effective and easy-to-use point-of-care diagnostic tools that could be deployed at primary health centres across the country. Development of new technologies and better service delivery models need to be encouraged.
The lack of awareness about the disease among the general public has proven to be a major impediment in India’s fight against TB. The ‘TB Harega, Desh Jeetega’ campaign has been heralded as a landmark moment in India’s fight against TB. This should be disseminated across the country with the aim to build community ownership of the TB programme, akin to the polio eradication drive.
International cooperation through cross-pollination of ideas can accelerate the fight against TB. The Global TB Caucus is one such initiative that was founded at the Global TB Summit last year in Barcelona.
After consultation with governments, donor organisations and other key stakeholders, the WHO has formulated the ‘End TB Strategy’. This aims to bring down the number of deaths due to TB by 95% by 2035.
Successive governments have not given public health the priority it deserves. TB is curable and preventable, and it’s time to get rid of this scourge. Amartya Sen very aptly said, “Among the important freedoms we can have is the freedom from avoidable ill-health and from escapable mortality.”
To realise this statement, strengthening our health systems should be made a priority to ensure that they are accessible, affordable and responsive to the needs of all sections of the population, thereby freeing our people from the shackles of disease and ill-health.
(Dalbir Singh is president, Global Coalition Against TB, and Kalikesh Singh Deo is a Lok Sabha MP. The views expressed are personal)