Lakshadweep and Jammu and Kashmir's Budgam district are the first in the country to be declared TB-free, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan Singh said on Wednesday as he called for a "TB Mukt Bharat'. He also and asked all citizens to rise to the occasion and make India's resolve to end tuberculosis by 2025 into a Jan Andolan.
Vardhan, who inaugurated the World Tuberculosis Day celebrations at Dr Ambedkar International Centre here on Wednesday, said that2020 has seen some setbacks in the direction of treating tuberculosis but despite the challenges posed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, India's TB programme saw over 18.04 lakh TB notifications, according to a health ministry statement. "Encouragingly, post the lockdown period of April-June, by implementing several innovative strategies, we managed to bring the programme to pre-COVID levels and are back on track to ending TB by 2025, in line with the prime minister's vision.
"When India decides, India does. Indigenously developed cost-effective, point-of-care molecular diagnostic machines (called TrueNAT) were deployed to test for both COVID-19 and TB across the country. Many state/UTs also leveraged the house-to-house COVID-19 screening campaigns and integrated TB as well in the COVID surveillance strategies," Vardhan was quoted as saying in the statement. Addressing the event, he said India has 30 per cent of the world's TB cases and under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi highest priority has been accorded to end tuberculosis by 2025.
"We have also ensured that the commitments are supported with commensurate resources. Budget allocation for TB in India has witnessed a fourfold increase in the last 5 years," he said. High-quality drugs, digital technology, engaging the private sector and communities, integrating TB services across all levels within the health system, are all aligned to rapidly decline TB incidence and mortality in the country, Vardhan added. Awards were also given to the best performing states and union territories based on their state TB Index. Lakshadweep (UT) and the district of Budgam (J-K) were declared TB-free, the statement said.
While distributing the medals and certificates to awardees, Vardhan noted that this is a historic day for India as one UT and one district have been declared TB-free. "I am confident that next year we shall have more states, UTs and districts stepping up to the challenge and laying such claims. The last few years have seen the country take definitive steps towards the elimination of tuberculosis from the country.
"The sustained efforts of the National Tuberculosis Elimination Programme have led to an unprecedented increase in TB notifications and significant improvements in timely diagnosis, adherence, and treatment outcomes," Vardhan said. It is an encouraging sign and reflects that citizens now have better access to TB patients and the ability to provide free treatment to patients from both the public and private sectors.
Over the past few years, we have significantly ramped up India's diagnostic capacity for TB and we now have at least one rapid molecular diagnostic facility available in each district and we are aiming to decentralise it down to the block level, he said. "On this occasion of World TB Day, I call for a 'TB Mukt Bharat' and ask all of you present here and all citizens of this country to rise to the occasion and make India's resolve to end TB by 2025 into a Jan Andolan. Let us pledge to march together as one people and truly make sure our country defeats this disease in the next four years," he said.
"We aim to detect cases early and prevent the emergence of new cases of TB by expanding TB care through the engagement of various stakeholders including the community," Vardhan said. He further said they are working tirelessly to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and regain lost momentum. "The experience gained from COVID-19 can be replicated in achieving the aim of elimination of tuberculosis," he said.
He said the scale on which India increased the testing of COVID-19 from just a few tests in a day to more than a million tests a day is "commendable". "We can adapt this experience to enhance testing in TB also. Not only we have administered more than 5 crore doses in our country, but we have exported the vaccines to many other countries also. "We have adopted pre-emptive strategies like the integration of TB and COVID-19 bi-directional screening, ramping up laboratory services, diagnostic and treatment capacity upgrades and procedures for co-located testing for TB and testing for COVID-19 (among notified TB patients) at health centres and hospitals to boost surveillance and TB case finding efforts," Vardhan said. Dr Roderico H. Offrin, WHO representative to India said, "The theme of World TB Day this year is 'The clock is ticking. We must use setback during last year due to COVID-19 to step up our efforts to end TB. India has launched a Jan Andolan to end TB and this commitment has been backed by budgetary allocation, infrastructure and resources." "The efforts have almost doubled. TB initiatives at the central level have been percolated down to States, Districts, Blocks and Gram Panchayat levels," he said.
Later during the day, Vardhan addressed an international event organised by the World Health Organisation to raise awareness against TB through a video conference Wednesday.