The Director’s Corner

The Director’s Corner

“We will not end global TB until we eliminate TB in India.”

India’s TB-Free Summit inspires collective action.

Last week, I was in Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh for the India TB-Free Summit – two days of high-level, high profile events and meetings, with experts from different sectors that could - and should - make a serious impression on combatting tuberculosis (TB) in India. 

India’s TB situation is critical.  Every week, 10,000 people die from TB in India and TB is one of the primary causes of death. Behind the statistics are stories of the suffering and injustice endured by people who live with TB and the multidrug-resistant (MDR-TB) strains of the disease.  The news media frequently reports stories of Indian citizens who take their own lives because they cannot find quality treatment and they face impoverishment, discrimination and social isolation.  This is from a preventable and treatable disease.  No-one should die from TB. No-one should be hounded or stigmatised for living with TB. We must take collective action and address this situation now.

The summit was an ambitious undertaking that brought together parliamentarians, global health leaders, the business community, TB experts, TB survivors and celebrities, including some of India’s best known Bollywood actors.  A diverse, even disparate, group on the surface but with a common aim – accelerating progress against TB in this afflicted continent. 

The government in India has committed to ending TB by 2025 – a full five years before the rest of the world.  The world is counting on India’s leadership to make this happen because we will not end TB globally, until we end TB in India. 

At the summit, this leadership made itself felt.  An unprecedented letter of support from the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, said: “It is gladdening to see stakeholders from all walks of life converge…to deliberate on a vision for a TB Free India.” 

The Minister of Health, Government of India, Shri J.P. Nadda, said: “The government is committed to ending TB by 2025. Today, the Revised National TB Control Programme (RNTCP) treats over 10 million TB patients. But meeting the 2025 goal requires us to be aggressive in our approach and have a fresh way of thinking. We must tackle TB head-on, in the public and private sector, and a summit likes this gives us the opportunity to look for new ways to do this.”

Meeting with India’s corporate leaders, I discussed the role they had to play in this crisis and how they could help. TB often affects people in their most economically productive years. When workers get sick, companies and families suffer. Just like we have seen mining companies in South Africa start to initiate programmes to protect the health of their workforces, we need India’s corporate sector to help their employees protect themselves from TB. I urged them to consider this prospect further and offered them support from The Union in designing appropriate programmes and aiding them in considering how their corporate social responsibility resources could be invested into TB campaigns.

The Summit also featured a panel discussion about TB in India, chaired by The Minister of Health, Government of India, Shri J.P. Nadda, and attended by representatives from global health organisations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), USAID and the Global Fund.  This wide-ranging debate included discussion of the practicalities of rolling out the nine-month shortened regimen for treating MDR-TB.  India made global headlines recently with the case of the 18-year-old girl denied access to the drug, bedaquiline.  Access to effective treatment is a key concern for India, as is effective case finding, quality of care and ‘bidirectional’ screening for co-morbidities such as diabetes and TB. We debated these subjects and the challenges of funding, air quality and pollution, and provision of social and community support – all key areas that need to see accelerated progress if the End TB Strategy is to be realised by the 2030 deadline.

The Summit concluded with a T20 #IndiaVsTB cricket match between the MP’s XI, captained by parliamentarian, Anurag Thakur, and the Mumbai Heroes, a celebrity team led by actor, Bobby Deol. Under the headline, ‘time to bowl out TB’, this event was broadcast live on Doordarshan National (India’s national public service TV channel) and on parliament channels Lok Sabha TV and Rajya Sabha TV, and was a great way of raising necessary public awareness of TB. We need sustained, visible campaigns against TB stigma that penetrate deep within communities. The TB Free India Campaign, by engaging celebrities such as Amitabh Bachchan who, as a TB survivor has done so much to address stigma, is crucial to this effort. TB has been ignored for too long.Thanks to initiatives such as this, those days are numbered and we can make real progress towards ending TB.

Jose Luis Castro

Executive Director, The Union

Read more about Challenge TB India

Read more about the Call to Action for a TB Free India Campaign 

Read more about the India TB-Free Summit 

Follow the campaign on Twitter using hashtag #IndiaVsTB