The first variety of a drug resistant strain of TB, reportedly surfaced in India in 2006. Six years later, cases of a totally drug resistant variety were reported in Mumbai. In between, the Indian government announced an expansion of its treatment network, built 37 labs to detect multi-drug resistant viruses and as of now is treating 5,000 patients across India.
What stands out in The Wall Street Journal story India in Race to contain untreatable tuberculosis, which reports the above, is the fact that India might still be unprepared to deal with the un-treatable variety of TB due to the huge cost of the treatment – right from equipment for diagnosis to antibiotics that have to be administered in the first stages of disease.
Given that the onslaught of TB is usually felt by the sections of the society which suffer from malnutrition, the cost factor becomes bigger in the treatment than any other disease probably.
“India has the largest number of the world’s cases—2.3 million of the nearly nine million people afflicted annually—and it is the country’s most fatal infectious illness. Government authorities estimated about 100,000 of India’s patients have drug-resistant strains, which researchers say can mutate into forms increasingly immune to more and more medicines,” reporter Geeta Anand writes in WSJ.
A Times of India report dating back to January 2012, when the first strains of the completely un-treatable tuberculosis were announced to have been found in Mumbai said that at least 15 percent of Mumbai’s deaths every year are caused by some form of TB.
“About 3 lakh to 4 lakh die of TB each year in India It is believed that more than half the city’s TB patients seek treatment in the private sector,” the TOI report notes.
Nature.com observes that the drug resistant variety’s evolution can be attributed to ‘poor treatment’ too. It also says that the fact that there has been little research in the field of TB medicine has led to the unabated evolution of the TB virus while medicines to battle them are being worked on just recently.
“The pharmaceutical industry had scant interest in TB for decades,” says Richard Chaisson, director of the Center for TB Research at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland in the Nature.com article. “The industry pretty much concluded it wasn’t an attractive market, there was not enough potential profit.”
According to the TOI report, a TB patient left untreated can infect 10-15 more people a year. Time forIndia to loosen its purse strings and give TB treatment a fresh shot in the arm?