HYDERABAD (Reuters) - India, which has the world’s largest number of tuberculosis patients, plans to release the results of its first-ever survey mapping the prevalence of drug-resistant TB by December, two senior government officials said.
The data is keenly awaited as it would show the extent to which patients in India have developed resistance to existing TB medicines.
Such resistance has been described by the World Health Organisation as a major global threat to the treatment of the lung disease, which spreads through coughs and sneezes. India is estimated to have the largest number of such drug-resistant TB cases after China.
The country has so far estimated the prevalence of drug-resistant TB only by conducting shorter, state-wide surveys. It started a nationwide survey in 2014 with the aim of tracking 5,214 patients under the country’s TB-control program.
The survey results would help improve detection of drug-resistant TB cases by making clear where it preponderates and inform the country’s future TB-control strategy, said Sunil Khaparde, deputy director general of the national program.
While India has an estimated 2.1 million TB patients, only half of them are under the national program. Many opt for private care over an overburdened public health system, which suffers from a lack of funding and poor infection control.
The survey would not cover those outside the national program. Yet, the results would be “incredibly important,” said Erica Lessem, director of Treatment Action Group, a New York-based policy think tank working on TB treatment access in India.
Improvements in detecting drug-resistant TB in India would have a “huge global impact,” Lessem said. “One of the major problems with drug-resistant TB worldwide is that we are not able to detect enough cases ... we are missing hundreds of thousands of patients who can transmit it to others.”
Editing by Ralph Boulton