Tuberculosis (TB) and Covid-19 are both infectious diseases that attack primarily the lungs. Both diseases have similar symptoms such as cough, fever, and difficulty breathing. TB, however, has a longer incubation period with slower onset of disease.
While experience on Covid-19 infection in TB patients remains limited, it is anticipated that people ill with both TB and Covid-19 may have poorer treatment outcomes, especially if TB treatment is interrupted.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday addressed the ministers of the member nations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and heads and representatives of the UN agencies and partner organizations and shed light on India’s role and contribution towards strengthening multisectoral action and progress towards ending TB, especially in the context of the Covid-19 crisis.
Emphasizing India’s role, Harsh Vardhan said, “Under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has accorded high priority to ending tuberculosis by 2025, five years ahead of the sustainable development goal (SDG).”
Health Minister @drharshvardhan addresses members of the @UN and @WHO; says India has accorded high priority for ending #tuberculosis by 2025, five years ahead of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)@MoHFW_INDIA
— PIB India (@PIB_India) September 23, 2020
He added, “Tuberculosis has been in existence since time immemorial and continues to remain a major global public health problem. Despite the progress made over the last decade, TB remains the leading infectious killer disease worldwide”.
Lauding India’s efforts towards eradication of TB, Harsh Vardhan said, “With bold and innovative policies supported by commensurate resources, India has taken several critical steps towards ending TB. We have significantly reduced the number of missing TB patients from 1 million in 2016 to less than 0.5 million in 2019, with 2.4 million cases notified during the year.
“Most importantly, a third of these notifications were contributed by the private sector. With the scale-up of rapid molecular diagnostics in every district of the country, we were able to identify over 66,000 drug-resistant TB patients in 2019.”
The Union Health Minister spoke about the Covid-19 pandemic which has “brought a dramatic shift in our lives in more ways than one”. He pointed out how the public discourse on health has now taken center stage. There is heightened public health awareness among the public today. Covid-19 and its highly contagious nature have created a huge health-related risk perception across the globe, he pointed.
The Health Minister spoke at length about India’s role and contribution towards ending TB in the context of the Covid-19 crisis, and the multi-sectoral actions taken by India to curb and manage Covid-19 in the country.
According to WHO, “Every year, 10 million people fall ill with tuberculosis (TB). Despite being a preventable and curable disease, 1.5 million people die from TB each year – making it the world’s top infectious killer.”
Harsh Vardhan said, “I would say that the Covid-19 pandemic has given us the opportunity to structurally reimagine our core public health delivery systems. Innovations, such as doorstep delivery of drugs to TB patients, teleconsultation, active screening for TB through outreach activities, etc. have proved to be a boon for many patients during the lockdown.”
He further added, “We all know that the onset of the pandemic has resulted in setbacks to case finding efforts during the lockdown period, but as soon as it was lifted, case finding numbers have started rising. In fact, we reached a historic low in the month of April with lockdown in full force, but through sustained efforts, we have managed an increase of 43% in May and another 25% in June. As we gradually unlock the country we will be back in full gear.”
Dr. Harsh Vardhan pointed out that poverty is a powerful determinant of tuberculosis and undernutrition an important risk factor of developing active TB disease. “To address this, we are providing cash incentives through Direct Benefit Transfers for nutritional support and since April 2018, Rs. 7.9 billion (around 110 million USD) have been distributed to over 3 million beneficiaries. Affordable and quality TB care is a priority for our Government”, he stated.