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Chief of Stop TB Partnership lauds India’s commitment to eradicate disease by 2025

The union government, under the National Tuberculosis Elimination Programme (NTEP), aims to strategically reduce the TB burden in India by 2025, five years ahead of the Sustainable Development Goals.

March 23, 2023 / 11:27 AM IST
Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director, Stop TB Partnership

Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director, Stop TB Partnership

India is on the road to eradicate tuberculosis by 2025, as envisaged by the government of India, said Lucica Ditiu, the chief of Stop TB Partnership, an entity of the United Nations Office for Project Services, which works with stakeholders around the world to eradicate the disease.

The union government, under the National Tuberculosis Elimination Programme (NTEP), aims to strategically reduce the TB burden in India by 2025, five years ahead of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Ditiu, who is in India ahead of World TB Day on March 24, spoke to Moneycontrol on India’s goal of TB eradication and also on the commitment of the government to fight drug-resistant tuberculosis in the country.

Stop TB Partnership recently partnered with an Indian company, Molbio Diagnostics, to expand access to rapid molecular tests for TB globally.

Edited excerpts from the interview follow:

Tell us about the role Stop TB Partnership plays and the work that is being done in India?
Stop TB Partnership is part of the United Nations and we are based in Geneva. We work with every single country in the world. We work at a regional level and then we interact with several countries in different ways. One of the countries we work with very closely is India, and there are different ways in which we interact with India.

We are a big supporter and encourager of the Indian Government and the Ministry of Health in this bold agenda of ending TB by 2025, because we think it’s possible and we think it’s extremely important to happen.

The second thing comes under communication and advocacy packages. The Health Minister of India, Mansukh Mandaviya, is the chair of our Stop TB Partnership board along with six other ministers.

The other way in which we support Indian organisations is through finances; we support some grassroots civil societies and communities to raise and empower people. Secondly, (we provide support) through a granting mechanism, and we have another mechanism that is devoted to Innovations. So, basically we fund organisations to implement innovations and tools.

We have a team called Global Drug facility that interacts a lot with the Government of India by providing some of the medicines for some categories of treatments that are very specific, and also provide diagnostics for TB. We are supporting other countries in the world to uptake and use some Indian products.

How do you view the Indian government’s plan to eradicate tuberculosis by 2025? What are the challenges?
In terms of challenges, you see, India is the boldest country in the world in terms of what it aims to do to end TB. We very much congratulate and applaud how the Indian government is pushing the TB agenda, and we think that India can end TB by 2025.

It will not go to zero. It will not eradicate, but it will drive the notification rates and the incidents to a lower level that is easier to handle.

I think India will have a big challenge related to the huge populations that have to be reached out to with services. While this is starting from the top, it should also empower people at the ground level to really demand access to the right tools, which will be extremely important.

Do you think India has the commitment to eradicate TB by 2025?
Yes, I think India can end TB by 2025. Again, it’s not that there won’t be any TB cases in India — you will still have some good hundreds of thousands of people with TB, but it will drive the numbers down.

We have already observed that the incidence is declining and the more people are notified, the better it is because you stop transmission. And if prevention of TB is done through preventive treatments, which is also extremely important, it will stop people becoming infected with the disease and spreading it to others.

India is one of the high-burden countries with drug-resistant TB. How do you see the government tackling this problem?
First of all, to deal with drug-resistant TB, you need to have access to a diagnosis and not just any type of diagnosis. You need to make sure that all the people have access to rapid molecular diagnosis to detect drug-resistant TB. For a long time, in a lot of parts of the world and probably in India still, we have had diagnosis by smear microscopy. That should have stopped and we should change it right away to rapid molecular diagnosis.

There is now an Indian manufactured product that is helping with diagnosing drug-resistant TB. So. we should scale up access to this. That’s huge, because obviously, you can buy more — as I said, everything with drug resistant TB starts with diagnosing.

Second, is to ensure access to the right treatment regimen, quality-assured. We now have options with treatment for drug-resistant TB that are shorter and less toxic. India is already putting in place a scale-up for everyone to have access, and I hope it will continue.

You talked about diagnosis of tuberculosis. How do you think Truenat, the rapid molecular test for diagnosis, can help ?
So, Truenat is a rapid molecular diagnosis. It’s the tool of the future and it’s actually the gold standard recommended by the WHO for diagnosing TB. It gives you an accurate description of whether the TB is active or not, resistant or not etc. And it’s very rapid as well.

In 2023, and going forward, every single person with TB, should be diagnosed using rapid molecular tests. This is critical because all these machines were procured that can do the TB test on them.

Ayushman Kumar
Ayushman Kumar Covers health and pharma for MoneyControl.