CHENNAI: Taking a step forward in the tough battle against extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB), the State government began using a new drug for this from Saturday, administering it to two selected patients at the Government Hospital for Thoracic Medicine, Tambaram.
This drug, which is on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines, is the first new tuberculosis drug to be approved by the USFDA in over four decades, the patients for which are chosen only after careful screening.
“The drug will be a boon for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) patients. The effectiveness of the drug has been proven during the clinical trials in other countries,” Health Minister Dr C Vijaya Baskar, a doctor himself, told Express.
The treatment using Bedaquiline, the new drug, was launched a week before its scheduled launch in the State.
The drug carries higher risk of mortality, and thus comes with a ‘black-box warning’ of the risks involved such as changes in heart rhythm and increased mortality. Hence this is recommended only for use when other treatment regimens are ineffective. It will be available only in government facilities and not sold in the market.
“As the drug is not advisable to all due to the risk of causing cardiac problems, we have to select patients to whom this could be administered,” Dr A Lakshmi Murali, State TB Control Officer told Express.
The patients chosen for this should not have any cardiac problems. The female patients should not be pregnant and they should agree to stay compulsory in hospital for two months so as to be eligible to receive the drug.
“Because of the potential risks involved, district TB control officers were given training in ‘Bedaquiline Condition Access Programme’ that is exclusively framed for this drug. They will monitor the progress of the patients meticulously,” she added.
The first batch had officers from Tirunelveli, Thanjavur, Villupuram and Coimbatore who came to Chennai to take the special training before launching this drug.
Once a leading killer, TB does not have the same sting any more after advances made in treatment regimen. Globally nine million new cases are reported annually and about 25 per cent of the people in India are infected with the bacteria, experts say.
But the drug resistant ones are a different story altogether. The bacteria that causes this is resistant to treatment with at least two of the most powerful first-line anti-TB drugs - isoniazid (INH) and rifampicin (RMP)
About five per cent of TB cases in India and two per cent in Tamil Nadu are the drug-resistant variety, Dr Lakshmi added.