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TB elimination by 2025: Vardhan restates commitment

TB elimination. Concept.Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan has reiterated the Government’s commitment for tuberculosis (TB) elimination by 2025.

“In India, under the guidance of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, India has accorded high priority for ending tuberculosis by 2025, five years ahead of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG),” Vardhan told his counterparts from member nations of the the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations officials and representatives, and partner organisations. He noted that “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.” 

Nonetheless, Vardhan expressed optimism as to India’s prospects of making TB elimination a reality within the next five years. “With bold and innovative policies supported by commensurate resources, India has taken several critical steps towards ending TB,” he said. “We have significantly reduced the number of missing TB patients from one 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.”

This is not the first time even this year that Vardhan has espoused India’s TB elimination ambitions. Earlier this year, Vardhan told reporters “by 2025, we wish to eliminate tuberculosis from India.” TB elimination by 2025 was even enshrined into the Union Budget, with Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman proclaiming that “[the] “TB Harega Desh Jeetega” campaign has been launched. I propose to strengthen these efforts [to] realise our commitment to end tuberculosis by 2025.”

TB elimination by 2025 has been a target of India’s for a number of years. However, its feasibility is debatable. As I wrote earlier this year

“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.”

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