An old scourge

The reports appearing on the World Tuberculosis Day point to some progress in dealing with this serious and widely prevalent threat to public health as also the difficulties and extreme challenges in treating it and bringing it under control.

It is a major killer of people, including both children and adults, mainly in poor and developing countries but is not absent in richer countries also. It is highly infectious and medical research is still grappling with preventive as well as curative methods.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared TB as a threat that calls for global emergency responses. Going by the present data of incidence, about nine million people will develop the disease and about 1.5 million will die every year from the disease in the near future. The highest number of these cases are  in India which accounts for over two million cases of infection and a daily toll of over 1000 deaths.

Tuberculosis is treatable and curable if diagnosed early enough and the right course of treatment is undertaken without fail and interruption. But it does not always happen because of lack of awareness and failure to monitor the course of treatment for the required period. A major problem arising out of wrong or incomplete treatment is the emergence of drug-resistant strains of TB. The extremely drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) or the multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR) which have recently emerged are not amenable to any treatment.

If the drug resistant strains infect people treatment is very difficult and prohibitively costly. Even then it turns out to be ineffective, and the patient passes on the disease to many others too. Isolation of such patients is hardly undertaken and the result is fast spread of the disease.

The entire public health establishment should be made ready to take on the challenge of TB. It has been observed that the private sector, including hospitals, practitioners and  laboratories, should play a greater role in the diagnosis and treatment of TB.

The steps taken by the government for this are yet to show the desired results. The anti-tuberculosis campaign, which is aimed  at creating awareness and enabling people to take timely and effective treatment, is still not a mass campaign. Medical research should also focus more on finding solutions and remedies for the new challenges that have appeared now. TB is among the oldest scourges of health in the country and the national TB control plan should see better results.

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