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Govt downplaying the tuberculosis threat?

Jan 20, 2012 10:21 AM IST India India

Mumbai: The Maharashtra government has labelled a hospital's claims of a fatal tuberculosis strain as premature. The question is whether the government is downplaying the disease.

1,000 Indians die of tuberculosis every day and 20 per cent of the total TB deaths in the world take place in the country. The picture seems to be getting darker with reports that show 12 cases of the killer, totally drug resistant TB. But the government has been downplaying the danger.

SK Jindal, Chairman, Central DOTS Committee, said, "There is no such thing as totally drug resistant TB. They are all cases of XXDR TB, which is, extremely drug resistant TB. The second thing is that this is nothing new. It's not like a new virus has hit India."

A central team and the Maharashtra Health authorities have claimed that seven out of the 12 cases of totally drug resistant TB reported by the Hinduja Hospital have tested negative. Strangely, they were vague about where exactly the tests were done.

One in six Indians under the age of 50 dies due to tuberculosis. Yet the State Health Department and the team from the Centre is downplaying the huge public health threat. They not only lashed out at the Hinduja Hospital for claiming to find totally drug resistant TB, but also say, the rate of transmission of TB has dropped down annually in the country from 1.5 per cent to 1.1 per cent.

The government, however, maintains that it has an action plan to combat what it calls extremely drug resistant TB. It said that the number of TB officers in Mumbai will be increased to 24 from six now. The government also said that the number of labs where drug resistance tests will be done will be increased to 43 from the current 27. It has, however, clarified that no suspected patient will be isolated.

But with studies having shown that one TB person infects at least 15 others in a year, these measures seem too little, too late.