Global fight against tuberculosis hinges on India stepping up funding: WHO

by Reuters
Thursday, 19 November 2015 09:14 GMT

In this file 2011 photo, a volunteer holds sputum samples from tuberculosis patients at the Indonesian Union Against Tuberculosis clinic in Jakarta. REUTERS/Beawiharta

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India is world's TB hotspot as it accounts for 23 percent of global cases and the most deaths

* WHO praises India's past success in battling TB

* More funds needed to achieve 2030 targets: WHO

* India recorded 220,000 TB deaths in 2014

* Activists blame deaths on poor oversight, urge action

By Aditya Kalra

NEW DELHI, Nov 19 (Reuters) - India is critical to the global fight to end an epidemic of tuberculosis by 2030 and must step up funding to control the disease, the World Health Organisation said, citing concerns over broader cutbacks in government health programmes.

India is the world's TB hotspot as it accounts for 23 percent of global cases and the most deaths - 220,000 last year - from the bacterial lung disease that spreads through coughs and sneezes.

Campaigners blame the deaths on weak infection controls, poor oversight and low health spending. Still, India's TB programme reduced the prevalence of the disease by more than half to 211 cases per 100,000 people from 1990 to 2013.

"India is a positive, successful story up to a certain point. From now on, that positive story won't be sufficient and they'll need to do more," Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO's TB programme, said in a telephone interview from Geneva.

"When you have a government that cut money to health, you cannot be satisfied. This is a major gap that has to be fixed."

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been facing criticism for keeping a tight leash on social outlays - the government last year cut the federal health budget by 20 percent citing underutilisation of funds.

An internal assessment report in July showed India's TB programme was off track due to funding problems - New Delhi approved $243 million for TB control during 2012-2015, lower than the requested $432 million.

A health ministry official denied current shortages, but said the government is assessing how much additional funding would be needed to achieve the 2030 TB target, which he said was ambitious.

Other countries facing significant tuberculosis risk include Indonesia and China.

DAUNTING TASK

Combating TB is a daunting task in India due to widespread insanitary conditions, poverty and a lack of public hospitals. Low public awareness and social stigma attached to the killer disease also hinder eradication efforts.

India also needs to upgrade laboratories to better detect the disease - the government last year tracked down 25,000 of the WHO's estimated 47,000 multi-drug resistant TB cases that, Raviglione said, was "not sufficient" but better than before.

TB killed 1.1 million people globally last year, for the first time rivalling HIV/AIDS as a leading cause of death from infectious diseases.

"If India doesn't invest on TB, then there will be very little progress at the global level," said Raviglione.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Sanjeev Miglani)

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