TB spread in state alarming

The sharp increase in the number of patients diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) in Karnataka is a matter of serious concern. According to the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP), 60,751 patients were diagnosed with TB in the state in 2016, up from 49,396 in 2015. This is a 23% increase in new cases of tuberculosis over a year. Worryingly, at least 900 of these cases were found to be of the multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) variety, a form of this disease that is resist­ant to treatment.  The number of cases of MDR-TB is rising rapidly as well. In 2011, Karnataka was reported to have had only 33 cases of MDR-TB. Clearly, the state has a giant public health concern on its hands. The magnitude of this challenge must not be downplayed as the RNTCP figures represent just a tip of the iceberg.  Just a fraction of those who contract TB are registered with the RNTCP. Given the social stigma attached to the disease, most people suffering from TB prefer to remain silent about it. Additionally, surveys show that most TB patients who opt for treatment prefer going to the private sector. Thus, the RNTCP figures do not reveal the full magnitude of the problem. 

Health authorities attribute the rise in number of drug resistant TB cases to the inability of the patients to complete the prolonged treatment that requires close to two years for the resist­ant cases. Even the standard TB treatment needs almost six months of following a strict drug regimen. Often patients discontinue medicines as they start feeling better. Once the symptoms come back, many of them change the doctor, without completing the course of the medicine in the first place. This not only results in the recurrence of the disease, but also makes the bacteria res­istant to the medicines. Being a highly infectious disease, a single TB patient can infect at least around 10 others in a year. A life threatening disease, TB poses a threat to not only the life of the individual patient but also others who live and work with him. The disease also drains on the resources as TB patients are often too weak to work. The stigma attached to TB is a major cause of stress and depression among patients, as shown by the World Health Organisation in a study that found 40-70% of TB patients suffer from depression and anxiety.

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