India accounted for 26 per cent of all cases of tuberculosis worldwide in 2012, according to the Global Tuberculosis Report 2013, which was recently released by the World Health Organisation.
The report noted that the majority of cases in the rest of the world were recorded in Southeast Asia (29 per cent), Africa (27 per cent) and Western Pacific regions (19 per cent). Worryingly, India, along with South Africa and Ukraine, recorded the highest increases in cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) between 2011 and 2012.
Dr Sashidhar Buggi, director of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Chest Diseases here, noted that TB continued to be a problem even though programmes such as the Centre’s Revised National TB Control Programme, the largest such initiative in the world, has saved many lives. ‘’All of us are infected with the TB bug, but the infection flares up only when our immunity breaks down’’, he explained. “The major reason for the high rates of infection is that patients often do not complete the full course of medication nor observe lifestyle and hygiene precautions. It is a must for a person who has been coughing for more than two weeks to go for a sputum examination,” he said.
Buggi declared that TB was not only a medical problem but also a social one.
“All social evils contribute directly or indirectly to diseases in the country. Malnutrition, open drains, the health system, corruption, lack of awareness, poor education and hygiene, all lead to increase in diseases. If one TB patient is not treated, he infects at least ten more before he dies. So, taking a TB patient for treatment and getting him well is a service to the nation,” he added.
Women, Children Vulnerable
While the WHO report says most TB cases and deaths occur among men, the disease remains among the top three killers of women worldwide, the other two being heart disease and breast cancer. There were an estimated 4,10,000 TB deaths among women in 2012, including 1,60,000 among HIV-positive women. Half of the HIV-positive people who died from TB in 2012 were women. Of the estimated 8.6 million new TB cases worldwide in 2012, 2.9 million were women.
There were an estimated 5,30,000 TB cases among children under 15 years of age and 74,000 TB deaths (among HIV-negative children) in 2012, which accounted for six and eight per cent of the respective global totals.