Karnataka reported 68,000 new TB cases last year

Bengaluru: The World Tuberculosis Day is observed on March 24 to create awareness on the global epidemic and steps to eliminate the disease. This year's theme, "Wanted: Leaders for a TB-free World", focuses on building commitment to end TB.

A recent study revealed that there is an increase in active TB cases, with Karnataka reporting 68,000 cases last year.

Dr Vivek Anand Padegal, director, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital, said, "Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) has now become a major public health concern which health authorities are struggling to cope with. Tuberculosis is one of the biggest communicable diseases troubling the authorities today." He said that MDR-TB does not respond to even the most powerful anti-TB drugs. 

Reports highlight the struggle in identifying TB cases. India TB report 2018, released by the central government, states that reaching to the patients was the key priority. "Identifying TB is becoming difficult because many patients stop their medication half-way due to depression and some isolate themselves," said Dr Sudarshan K.S., assistant consultant, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital.

According to the World Health Organisation, India reported the world's highest number of TB cases, of which at least half are treated in the private sector and their diagnoses and treatment are not noted in government records. 

The Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) does not have the accurate numbers on TB detection, treatment and cure rates in the private sector.

To deal with cases that are not notified, the Union health ministry recently issued a notification, announcing that all the doctors, laboratories and chemists – including those in the public sector – can face a jail term of between six months and two years under Section 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and Section 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) of the IPC, if they fail to report cases.

The rule has left many activists and doctors unhappy in the city. "Criminal punishment of private doctors and chemists appears to be harsh and not in the right spirit of a healthy collaborative partnership to fight TB. All proceedings for criminal punishment will also divert resources of the government, which is futile for fight TB on the ground," said Dr Usha Manjunath, director, IIHMR.

Dr Sudarshan said it's a welcome move and will help to incentivise medical practitioners for notifying TB cases.

A senior health department official said, "Even after TB becoming notifiable disease in 2012, not all private practitioners are reporting cases to our department. Through the active case finding (ACF) campaign across Karnataka, we are trying to create more awareness and reach out to remote areas."

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