New Delhi: A dreaded disease that kills 1.5 million people globally will not be eradicated unless India does the needful. The India challenge remains, say experts, as it accounts for more than 1/4th of the global tuberculosis deaths.
The Union, which is an international federation working to eradicate tuberculosis and lung disease, is holding in Hyderabad the 50th Union World Conference on lung health and experts have underscored the need to deal with the challenge in India.
“Ending the TB emergency starts right here in India,” said José Luis Castro, Executive Director of The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease and Convener of the Union World Conference.
“One in four people living with TB are in India, so it is clear that we cannot end TB globally unless we end it in India. This is why it is so important to get behind the Indian government’s commitment to ending the epidemic,” said Castro.
The Union World Conference is the world’s largest gathering of clinicians, policy makers, public health managers, researchers and advocates working to end the suffering caused by lung disease with a focus specifically on the challenges faced by low and middle-income countries.
The conference was inaugurated by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu in Hyderabad on Wednesday. “We cannot end the TB emergency unless we dramatically scale up prevention in those parts of the world where we are treating it,” said Dr Jamhoih Tonsing, Director of The Union's South East Asia Office in New Delhi.
World Health Organization on air pollution, tobacco use and TB
The World Health Organization (WHO) also has highlighted the need for tobacco control and air pollution, both of which are key health challenges in India to control the epidemic.
“We have to work together with an urgency to address these issues and end TB,” said Ren Minghui, WHO Assistant Director General for Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases.
The disease, the vaccination
Tuberculosis is spread by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which mainly affects the lungs but also other parts of the body. Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death due to infectious diseases worldwide.
A research report revealed at the conference on vaccination for tuberculosis has brought some hope. The vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has shown overall an efficacy of 50% in patients during the three years after the vaccination.
“A vaccine is the ultimate prevention tool and the announcement today is welcome news, but as researchers discuss how to move the trial into its final phase, we simultaneously need to be doing all we can to prevent tuberculosis with medications that we already have at our disposal,” said Dr Paula I Fujiwara, Scientific Director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.
The research for the vaccine manufactured by GSK has not completed all the phases. More countries are required to participate for a successful phase 3 trials.
Accessibility to existing medicines
Accessibility to existing medication for tuberculosis has also been a concern in India. Lack of transparency for clinical trials and accessibility to TB drug Pretomanid has been a concern.
“Bedaquiline, delamanid and pretomanid have shown the potential to cure more people of DR-TB with far fewer side effects than older toxic treatments that need to be injected and are still used in most countries,” said Sharonann Lynch, HIV & TB Policy Advisor for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF's) Access Campaign.
“It’s inexcusable that drug corporations continue to put profits over people’s lives, as if medicines were a luxury. It’s time to smash the status quo: all three newer TB drugs must be affordable to everyone who needs them so more lives can be saved,” said Lynch.
Wednesday’s conference was marked with protests by TB patients. MSF (Doctors without Borders), a non-profit international organisation, registered protests along with tuberculosis activists to disrupt the opening ceremony of the event.
Ganesh Acharya, a TB patient, told News18 it is important to talk about the rights of those living, dying and affected by TB and DR-TB. Highlighting the problem of lack of access to new expensive drugs, he said, “This is the time to seek freedom from patents of medicines, freedom from high prices of medicines and freedom from stocks out of medicines.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set an ambitious target of eliminating the disease by 2025.