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TB elimination by 2025: Vardhan speaks out

TB-free India.
Activists campaigning for a TB-free India.

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has affirmed that the Centre is working towards its goal of tuberculosis (TB) elimination ahead of global targets.

“By 2025, we wish to eliminate tuberculosis from India,” the Minister informed the press on the sidelines of the Rotary India Centennial Summit in Kolkata on Saturday. The 2025 target for TB elimination in India comes five years in advance of global targets of achieving TB elimination by 2030.

Vardhan emphasised utilising immunisation in India’s fight against infectious diseases. Expressing that “we [the Government] are also working for the elimination of many other diseases in the country like Kala-azar and measles,” Vardhan said “we have ambitious plans of [a] universal immunisation programme delivered to 100 percent [of] people all over the country…and for that ‘Mission Indradhanush’ is already running.” 

Mission Indradhanush was launched in December 2014, with the goal of increasing vaccination coverage among pregnant women and children under two years to bolster herd immunity. Tuberculosis was one of seven diseases covered under the Mission at its inception and an intensified version of the programme was launched by the Government last year as the Centre looked to ramp up vaccination efforts. 

TB elimination by 2025 was mentioned in the Union Budget earlier this year. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman declared that ““TB Harega Desh Jeetega” campaign has been launched. I propose to strengthen these efforts [to] realise our commitment to end tuberculosis by 2025.” 

The feasibility of realising TB elimination in this timeframe has been debated by experts. It certainly does not appear feasible unless significant improvements are made to existing infrastructure. India lags far behind on targets aimed at reducing TB incidence by ninety percent and TB mortality by 95 percent by 2035 as compared to 2015 as the Lancet Commission on Tuberculosis noted in a report issued last year. These targets are expected to be met by 2124, almost a century after the fact, should the current trajectory of progress continue to be followed. Such a finding throws cold water on the current prospects of TB elimination by 2025. 

What India must confront are the issues standing in the way of realising TB elimination in the next near-century, let alone the next five years. Inadequacies in India’s public health infrastructure, chronic underspending, the multitude of factors such as poverty which feed its high TB incidence, the spread of drug resistance, failures in properly diagnosing and treating TB patients, and underreporting of cases are among the many problems that stand in its way.

India has made progress in tackling TB, reporting fewer cases and fewer deaths. Yet it continues to account for more cases than any other country in the world. Few commentators would deny that there is high political will and high-level political commitment in the fight against the disease and the realisation of TB elimination. However, things clearly need to change for TB elimination to become a reality.

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