New Delhi: The Union Health Ministry has handed over the charge of the country's tuberculosis control programme to the head of HIV/AIDS control organisation.
In an order dated March 28, the ministry decided that the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP), “hitherto handled in the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS)”, is transferred to the Additional Secretary and Director General (AS&DG) of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO).
As news spread of the programmes merging into one, the ministry was quick to clarify that both programmes would retain their independent identity but will be now able to learn from each other.
“We’re trying to build a synergy between both the programmes,” said Alok Saxena, Joint Secretary (JS) NACO.
However, a letter from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to the Ministry's Department of Health and Family Welfare, dated March 20, requested the department that the “message regarding aligning NACP and RNTCP should be loud and clear that the two programmes are merged.”
The programmes will now have one point person in Sanjeeva Kumar, the AS&DG NACO who will also become DG RNTCP.
The TB programme, Saxena explained is one the oldest public health care programmes in India. The AIDS programme is younger but is seen to have accomplished much, having turned the tide against the disease and brought it under control. Some in the ministry think that streamlining the two will help get things done faster and easier.
Earlier, the any approvals for the RNTCP would be routed through the AS, under the National Health Mission, and technicalities through the DGHS, splitting the decision making process between two entities.
For India’s target to end TB in the country by 2025—five years before the WHO’s global target—the TB programme has to step up.
“RNTCP has mandatory notification of the disease which NACO does not for HIV/AIDS. It also has a prominent role for private practitioners while the AIDS programme is entire in the government sector. Maybe we could learn some of these things from them,” said Saxena.
Meanwhile, he added, NACO’s strength comes from being a community-based organisation with a network of civil societies working with the government to get everyone living with HIV/AIDS on treatment. It has also had successful intervention in closed settings, where the disease can spread rapidly among people living in close quarters with each other. The TB programme can now tap into these resources and methods.
The ministry order says that the RNTCP will follow through AIDS programme's approach of engagements with the community-based organisations and civil society groups for achieving the outcomes under RNTCP.