Union hosts events in India and asks ‘Can we eliminate tuberculosis in India and around the world?’

In the lead up to World TB Day (24 March), The Union hosted a panel discussion in New Delhi on the challenge of ending the tuberculosis (TB) emergency in India and globally.

Joining the panel was 24-year-old Mansai Khade, a TB survivor who talked about her personal story of living with TB. Mansai was diagnosed with extensively drug-resistant TB at the age of 18. After two and a half years of treatment and a lung operation she is now cured of the disease. Mansai told the audience that despite feeling terrible when she had TB she knew she would not give up. Since being cured of TB she has gone on to complete a marathon and is now an art director for an agency in Mumbai. Talking about her experience she said: “TB didn’t take my life and I am so happy. I now know I won’t waste my life, it really is worth living.”

The panel discussed TB as a global health emergency in the context of the recent United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB, the resulting political declaration endorsed by world leaders with commitments to concrete actions, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge to end TB in India by 2025 – five years ahead of global targets.

In 2017, 10 million people fell ill with TB and 1.6 million died from the disease. TB, a preventable and curable disease, now kills more people than HIV/AIDS and is the world’s largest infectious disease killer. India has the highest TB burden in the world with one in four people ill with TB globally residing in the country.

Dr Paula I Fujiwara, Scientific Director of The Union, stressed the fact that in India, more than 1,100 people die from TB every single day. Addressing some of the issues why TB has continued to thrive, Dr Fujiwara said: “TB is an almost a perfect organism, we can breathe in the disease and keep it in our body without even knowing it. There is also an irrational stigma attached to TB, people contract it through no fault of their own, yet the stigma silences those affected, making it more difficult to prevent and treat”.

With the Prime Minister’s commitment to accelerate national TB control efforts, the India National TB Programme budget has doubled in recent years and India has an important role to play as a global research hub.

But much more is needed – in India and globally. Medicines, diagnostics and the vaccine for TB are too old, too weak or too inconvenient for patients and healthcare providers and TB rates are reducing far too slowly as a result. “The most important tool we need to develop is an effective vaccine. The current TB vaccine, called BCG, is over 100 years old and is only effective in preventing some forms of severe TB in infants and provides no protection for adults”, said Dr Fujiwara.

Joining Manasi and Dr Fujiwara on the panel were Dr Jamie Tonsing, Regional Director of The Union’s South-East Asia Office, Xerses Sidhwa, Director of the Health Office, USAID India, and S Venkat Narayan, President of the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia and chair of the discussion.

The discussions held here will continue at the 50th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Hyderabad, India, from 30 October – 2 November.

The panel discussion was followed by the Hyderabad launch of the 50th Union World Conference on Lung Health, where, José Luis Castro, Executive Director at The Union said, “We are honoured to be coming to India and it is our hope that the conference will provide continuing momentum in the drive to eliminate TB both in India and worldwide. India is at the heart of this battle and a fitting host country for the conference.”

The conference theme Ending the Emergency: Science, Leadership, Action focuses on what is needed to ensure commitments become action, and that lifesaving targets are met.

Speaking at the launch, N Saritha, whose 13-year-old-daughter was cured of TB, said, “I am delighted that the voices of my daughter and the entire community of people affected by TB including survivors will be heard at the Union World Conference.

“We cannot end the TB emergency unless TB survivors are front and centre of the response.”

Some 6,000 delegates - political leaders, policy-makers, doctors, researchers, nurses, TB survivors and national and international media - are expected to attend.