The high-level meeting on tuberculosis (TB) at the United Nations’ headquarters highlights a major issue in India – the shortage of necessary medicines for patients with drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB). India has the highest burden of DR-TB, and the shortage of medicines is forcing many patients to skip their doses, which is strongly discouraged in TB elimination programs. Patients like Rajjab Ali Khan in Mumbai are struggling to find the drugs needed to treat their loved ones. Khan’s wife, Ruksana, was diagnosed with DR-TB in August and has been unable to access the necessary drugs since then.
The situation is dire for many patients across India, as documented by The Wire, which interviewed family members, TB patients, and officials in different states. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed its concern and sent teams to assess the situation in several states. However, the assessments are still ongoing, and the shortages continue to pose a significant threat to patients’ health and well-being.
Missing doses of TB medication can lead to a worsening of the disease and can even result in death. The situation is especially worrisome for patients like Khan’s wife, who are in the initial phase of treatment, as they need to become non-infective and test negative for the bacteria. Additionally, patients in the final phase of treatment face a risk of relapse, which is not uncommon.
The shortage of drugs is not limited to one region but is prevalent across the country. Patients in Odisha, Bihar, and other states have reported having to buy drugs out of their own pocket due to stock-outs in government facilities. Cycloserine, one of the essential drugs for DR-TB treatment, is not readily available in most government facilities, leaving poor patients with no option but to purchase it from the private market at a high cost.
This shortage of essential medicines for DR-TB has been ongoing for the past one and a half years, according to Sudeshwar Kumar Singh, a member of India’s Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) for TB. Patients are forced to buy medicines from private medical stores, causing severe economic hardships, loss of employment opportunities, and malnutrition.
The government needs to address this pressing issue urgently. Patients should have easy access to the necessary medicines without facing financial burdens. The UN meeting on TB should focus on finding immediate solutions to the drug shortage problem in India. The country’s ambitious goal of eliminating TB by 2025 can only be achieved if patients have uninterrupted access to the medications they need.