New TB cases have more than halved since 1996, but cases of drug-resistant TB (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB) are on the rise.
“Drug resistance is a big cause for concern, and our strategy this year will have a major focus on dealing with multi and extensively drug resistant TB,” said CK Mishra, additional secretary, Union ministry of health.
A person can develop drug-resistance for various reasons, including failing to keep to proper treatment regimes, taking wrong drugs or sub standard drugs. One can also get exposed to the strain by coming in direct contact with the person suffering from drug resistance.
“We have installed 300 CBNAAT machines that diagnose drug resistance in TB patients within two hours. We are in the process of installing 500 more soon,” he said.
An estimated 81,700 people living with TB suffer from a strain that has stopped responding to existing medicines, of which 2,700 suffer from XDR-TB, shows data from Annual TB Report 2016.
To combat these drug-resistant strains, the government on Monday announced a newly-approved drug that Johnson & Johnson Pvt. Ltd. produced after 50 years of research, and has been added to the National TB Programme in a controlled manner.
Clinical trials have proved that the wonder drug, called Bedaquiline, is effective against the difficult-to-treat strains.
However, experts call for further strengthening of research in the field as drug resistance is growing problem.
“Today we celebrate bedaquiline but it is not long before the microbe develops resistance to the medicine. We need to focus on research and that needs investment,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, DG Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
“We haven’t done enough clinical trials to know exact combinations and doses that work. We need a new vaccine; BCG was discovered in 1921 but provides protection to only children,” she said.
Even though 13 vaccine candidates are under consideration, it is still a long way before India gets a vaccine.
“The research on developing a TB vaccine is on,” said Dr Sunil Khaparde, DDG (TB), government of India.
As a measure to control drug resistance, Director General Health Services (DGHS), Dr Jagdish Prasad, proposed to shift treatment from private to public sector.
“It’s important to track every single TB patient for treatment compliance, and private sector is particularly infamous for notifying cases, therefore, we should allow treatment only in government hospitals.”