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5 Lakh Killed and A Vaccine in Progress: How Tuberculosis Became Nightmare for India in 2020

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World Health Organization (WHO0, in a recent report released on Thursday, said that there has been a surge in people killed by tuberculosis (TB) for the first time in more than a decade. The UN health agency said 1.5 million people worldwide died of the bacterial disease last year, a slight rise from the 1.4 million deaths in 2019.

The countries with the highest numbers of TB cases include India, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Nigeria, Bangladesh and South Africa. The surge is likely linked to fewer testing and treatment as resources were diverted to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

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India Hard Hit

WHO, in its report, also mentioned that the bacterial disease killed 5 lakh people in India, a surge of 13 percent over the previous years. India alone accounted for about 34 percent of the estimated global 1.5 million tuberculosis deaths in 2020, the health agency said.

The number of people expected to develop and die from TB during 2021 and 2022 is expected to be even higher, a report in The Telegraph quoted WHO report, citing model-based forecasts of how disruptions in diagnostic and treatment services in 2020 could impact future counts.

The report further said that in India, 42,505 drug-resistant TB patients were started on treatment during 2020 against the estimated 124,000 patients diagnosed as drug-resistant in the country during 2019.

Reporting Falls

The WHO report also said that reporting of tuberculosis went down in India by 41 percent between 2019 and 2020, mainly due to Covid-19. About 16 countries, including India, Indonesia, Philippines and China, accounted to 93 percent of the global drop in notifications.

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The global health agency also said that 4.1 million people globally are suffering from TB, but have not been diagnosed with the disease or have not reported to national authorities. The number is up from the previous 2.9 million in 2019.

India Chasing Vaccine

In order to chase the target of eliminating tuberculosis by 2025, scientists at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have recruited about 12,000 participants for a phase III study of two potential vaccines. As a part of the study, participants will be monitored for three years before the potential vaccines are approved for use commercially or under the national TB programme, a report in Hindustan Times said.

The report said that one of the vaccines being tested to prevent TB of the lungs is Immuvac, which was developed to prevent leprosy. “Immuvac, also known as mycobacterium indicus pranii, displays antigens similar to both the leprosy bacterium and the TB bacterium,” the report added.

India’s strategy to eliminate TB is dependent on funding 3-4 vaccine candidates for phase I or II trials and have at least one final product co-owned by the government by 2025.

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Cases Mostly among ‘Adults’

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, earlier in August, said that over 65% of TB cases in India are found in the age group 15-45, which is the most economically productive segment of population. Mandaviya urged lawmakers to proactively engage in sensitising citizens about tuberculosis and its treatment in the events they organise and attend, a report in Livemint said.

“Globally, 2020 witnessed a sweeping covid-19 pandemic devastate lives, economies, health systems and health programmes across the world with record-breaking speed. In just a few months, the pandemic has reversed years of progress made in the fight against Tuberculosis,” Bharati Pravin Pawa, minister of state for health reportedly said.

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