Globally, India bears the burden of the highest prevalence of both tuberculosis (TB) and multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB). Multi-drug-resistant TB is especially a public health concern and challenge as the country struggles to meet its ambitious goal of becoming TB-free by 2025. The record of Haryana’s Karnal in tackling MDR-TB is not encouraging. There has been a steady rise in the number of such cases in the district annually since 2015 (from 27 in 2015 to 64 in 2020 and 58 till now in 2021). This picture is grim, for going by the general trend in the past, it could well be reflective of the average figures across the states.
The spike in the past two years could also be attributed to the extensive periods of Covid-induced lockdowns when the healthcare resources were focused on and diverted to controlling the pandemic. Like most other diseases, TB treatment, too, took a beating. This setback is particularly exacerbating as TB patients are known to develop the debilitating MDR-TB if their cure is left undiagnosed, interrupted or the medicine is discontinued before time. Once the body fails to effectively respond to the drugs vital for healing, it becomes harder and longer to treat and often turns fatal, as per the WHO. At the same time, given the poor airborne infection control protocol in India, including the wearing of masks by the medical fraternity, the chances of the transmission of this disease are high. At this rate, it is estimated that a massive chunk of all TB cases would comprise MDR-TB in a decade because of primary transmission.
Crucial to arresting the spread of TB is bringing about more awareness of the government’s programmes to battle it. Incidentally, its treatment and medicines are available free of cost in government facilities, a fact not widely known. Also, the overwhelmed and inadequate public infrastructure pushes patients towards the costlier private sector. More widespread screenings of those exhibiting consistent cough, low-grade fever, weight loss and night sweat are the key to the timely detection of TB and, consequently, its survival. The adage, prevention is better than cure, is most true for TB control.