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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Opportunity in adversity: Covid set back our fight against TB, but its lessons are strengthening TB management now (TOI)

Harsh Vardhan

The writer is Union minister of Health & Family Welfare, Science & Technology and Earth Sciences

The year 2020 will be etched in public memory as one where the world found itself amid an unprecedented public health crisis. The outbreak of Covid-19 exerted unimaginable pressure on our health care systems.

The Government of India put forth a strong national response in coordination with states, including imposing the nationwide lockdown and invoking the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, and rapid deployment of critical interventions such as contact tracing and active case finding undertaken on a mission mode to identify, isolate and provide timely care to Covid-19 patients.

Our healthcare workers from across different programmes, pulled in to combat SARS-CoV-2, worked diligently, day and night to ensure continuity of healthcare services. Despite the hardships, the spirit of collaboration between different sections of society – the healthcare providers, civil society as well as the general public – in tackling the pandemic was inspirational.

For a country as vast as India, this unified action will serve as a learning to ensure similar urgency towards other health challenges like tuberculosis, given that India is home to over a quarter of the global TB cases with an estimated 27.1 lakh patients in 2019.

In every adversity lies an opportunity, and this pandemic has provided us with one to augment TB elimination efforts by strengthening our public health system and infectious diseases control actions. Dedicated infectious disease hospitals that are being established as part of our pandemic preparedness and response, will contribute significantly to TB care and management.

We’ve also ramped up molecular diagnostic capacities across the country including in rural areas to ensure that rapid and accurate diagnosis is available in a decentralised manner. Renewed focus on infection control will alter the transmission dynamics, particularly in health facilities. Cough hygiene, use of masks, social distancing, when sustained, will further contribute to reducing transmission of respiratory illnesses such as TB.

The Covid-19 pandemic hampered our efforts to end TB, but we remain committed to regaining the momentum and meeting the 2025 timeline. Active case finding campaigns that were stalled due to the pandemic resumed late last year with house-to-house search for TB cases among mapped vulnerable populations. TB services and reach are also being expanded through the Ayushman Bharat health and wellness centres to identify new cases and treat, promote adherence, and provide support to patients.

Additionally, we’ve started bi-directional TB-Covid screening and screening for TB among Influenza Like Illness/ Severe Acute Respiratory Illness (ILI/SARI) cases. With the ease in lockdown restrictions TB services are returning to normal with more and more people approaching both government and private health clinics to get themselves tested.

To facilitate free TB care in the private health care sector, public-private partnerships are being launched in over 350 districts across the country. Our community outreach has ensured improvements in counselling, contact tracing, disbursement of nutritional support etc.

Since 2018, for the first time in the history of our country, the National TB Elimination Program (NTEP) transferred over Rs 1,000 crore to over 46 lakh beneficiaries in the form of social support, under Nikshay Poshan Yojana and other direct benefit transfer NTEP schemes. The largest ever prevalence survey is also underway and will provide us with a better understanding of the actual burden of TB in the country and at the sub-national level.

The adoption of online platforms for trainings, meetings and reviews has helped improve efficiency. The increased uptake of telemedicine and teleconsultations during the pandemic will provide additional channels of remote consultation on TB.

I’m also very happy to announce that a mobile application, ‘TB Aarogya Saathi’, has been developed for patients, giving them access to critical information on TB services, such as treatment updates, nutrition and entitlements among others. To motivate states to become ‘TB free’ we’ve initiated a sub-national certification of states to recognise their efforts.

While the NTEP continues to augment efforts to further strengthen TB management and service delivery, it’s only when the wider population uses the essence of democracy and the spirit of a collective movement – generating awareness, encouraging healthcare seeking behaviour within their communities, and de-stigmatising TB – that our programme will truly be a success.

Therefore, this year on World TB Day we reiterate our mission through the creation of a Jan Andolan on TB. I’m confident that our collective thoughts and unified action will lead us to a TB free India. We’re committed to making India TB free by 2025. It’s a resolve, and we’re confident and committed to achieving it together for a TB mukt Bharat. TB harega desh jeetega.

Courtesy - TOI


Help Sampadkiya Team in maintaining this website

इस वेबसाइट को जारी रखने में यथायोग्य मदद करें -

-Rajeev Kumar (Editor-in-chief,


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