India has the highest rate of tuberculosis (TB) in the world, accounting for nearly a fifth of global incidences of the disease. Two deaths occur every 3 minutes in India due to tuberculosis.
India is the world’s largest democracy and has been one of the fastest-growing economies in recent years. However, due to its large population of over one billion people and uneven distribution of economic growth, the country is classified by the World Bank as a “lower middle-income” country. Poverty remains a major challenge with the UN Human Development Index ranking India 131 out of 188 countries and territories.
While health indicators have improved, the burden of communicable diseases is a matter of great concern. India is home to one of the highest incidence rates of tuberculosis worldwide, with around two million new cases per year. It also has the highest recorded rate of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). The high incidence of tuberculosis is further fuelled by the presence of 2.1 million HIV cases in India. HIV and tuberculosis form a lethal combination, each speeding the other’s progress.
Red Cross in India
The India Red Cross Society’s tuberculosis programme has been running since 2009, initially starting in six districts of three states and extending to 21 districts in seven states in 2013. Complementing the Government of India’s Revised Tuberculosis Control Programme, the Indian Red Cross utilises the strength of its volunteers who are part of the communities we work with and who play an important role in ensuring detection of tuberculosis. Indian Red Cross volunteers ensure that patients who have not completed tuberculosis treatment are put back on treatment to prevent them contracting multi drug-resistant tuberculosis.
Irish Red Cross in India
Since early 2015, the Irish Red Cross has been assisting the Indian Red Cross Society in their effort to combat the spread of tuberculosis and to further control MDR-TB through a prevention and management of tuberculosis programme. The scope of the intervention, which covers two districts in Punjab state, is especially aimed at patients who default from their treatment, as they run the risk of developing multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.
Our Tuberculosis Prevention Programme
Screening for TB, in particular suspected missing TB cases in marginalised communities is one of the several interventions we use to improve early TB detection. We do this through intensive TB awareness drives, using loud speakers and leaflets, which provide information about TB symptoms, how it spreads and the treatment for it. Through these campaigns we also seek to reduce stigma around the disease and the discrimination due to it. Our programme focuses on the most vulnerable tuberculosis patients in the selected districts and seeks to help them complete their treatment as well as provide them with nutrition until they are cured.
The programme also prevents these patients from converting to the dangerous MDR-TB, which is very important as MDR-TB is much more of a threat than TB - not least because its treatment is 200 times more expensive than regular treatment. This treatment also takes a long time and carries a high mortality rate. By the end of 2017 the programme was achieving a success rate of 98.9% adherence to treatment. This is a staggering success given the minimum objective for government-led programmes is set at 85%. This year, the Irish Red Cross supported programme will continue with its work, targeting 400 new default patients. The programme will also hold health-screening events and will continue targeting community members with advocacy messages that dispel TB myths.
Updated March 2018