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Dr. Harsh Vardhan addresses Members of the UN and WHO

Dr. Harsh Vardhan addresses Members of the UN and WHO

Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare addressed Ministers of Member Nations of WHO, Heads & Representatives of UN Agencies & Partner Organizations through virtual interaction today. He spoke on India’s role and contribution towards strengthening multisectoral action and progress towards ending TB, especially in context of the COVID-19 crisis.

Emphasizing India’s role, Dr Vardhan said, “In India, under the guidance of our Hon’ble Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, India has accorded high priority for ending tuberculosis by 2025, five years ahead of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).” He added, “Tuberculosis has been in existence since time immemorial and continues to remain a major global public health problem. Despite the progress made over the last decade, TB remains the leading infectious killer disease worldwide”.

Lauding India’s efforts towards eradication of TB, Dr. Harsh Vardhan noted, “With bold and innovative policies supported by commensurate resources, India has taken several critical steps towards Ending TB. We have significantly reduced the number of missing TB patients from one million in 2016 to less than 0.5 million in 2019, with 2.4 million cases notified during the year. Most importantly, a third of these notifications were contributed by the private sector. With the scale up of rapid molecular diagnostics in every district of the country, we were able to identify over 66,000 drug resistant TB patients in 2019. ”

The Union Health Minister spoke about Covid-19 pandemic which has “brought a dramatic shift in our lives in more ways than one”. He pointed out how the public discourse on health has now taken centre stage. There is heightened public health awareness among the public today. Covid-19 and its highly contagious nature have created a huge health related risk perception across the globe, he pointed.

The Union Health Minister spoke at length about India’s role and contribution towards ending TB in context of the COVID-19 crisis, and the multi-sectoral actions taken by India to curb and manage COVID-19 in the country. Dr Vardhan said, “I would say that the Covid-19 pandemic has given us the opportunity to structurally reimagine our core public health delivery systems. Innovations, such as doorstep delivery of drugs to TB patients, tele-consultation, active screening for TB through outreach activities etc have proved to be a boon for many patients during the lockdown. We are also observing that from a mere patient centric care approach, the systems may need strengthening around community centric health approaches. Social and environmental determinants need to be addressed in the process too. Disease surveillance and enforcing public health regulations will become rigorous and not remain a matter of individual choice.”

He further added, “We all know that the onset of the pandemic has resulted in setbacks to case finding efforts during the lockdown period, but as soon as it was lifted, case finding numbers have started rising. In fact, we reached a historic low in the month of April with lockdown in full force, but through sustained efforts we have managed an increase of 43% in May and another 25% in June. As we gradually unlock the country we will be back in full gear. To mitigate the impact, we have been issuing constant advisories to the States to ensure convergence of TB case finding with COVID-19 efforts. We have initiated bi-directional screening among TB and COVID patients, and screening for TB among ILI and SARI cases.”

Dr. Harsh Vardhan pointed out that poverty is a powerful determinant of tuberculosis and under nutrition an important risk factor of developing active TB disease. “To address this, we are providing cash incentives through Direct Benefit Transfers for nutritional support and since April 2018, Rs. 7.9 billion (around 110 million USD) have been distributed to over 3 million beneficiaries. Affordable and quality TB care is a priority for our Government”, he stated.

Dr Harsh Vardhan re-affirmed the commitment of the Indian Government to TB elimination and assured that the government has accorded topmost priority to this agenda. He informed the participants that various steps have been taken by the government to boost confidence of the public so that they join with complete enthusiasm to make this into a ‘citizens movement’. Community engagement is the hallmark of fighting a pandemic and we are ensuring this happens”, he stated.

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