TB drugs shortage: health activists to write to prime minister

Critical drugs for children and drug-resistant TB patients out of stock; may lead to increase in drug resistance cases

Angered by the apathy of health officials towards the lack of paediatric tuberculosis medicines in the country, health activists said they will write to the prime minister, demanding action against officials responsible for the shortage. Activists have been circulating letters to get signatures from people who agree to their demand.

Medical practitioners, health NGOs, public interest groups, and health activists will request the prime minister to take immediate steps to address the problem of tuberculosis (TB) medicines under the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP) having gone out of stock.

Down To Earth in March raised the issue of paediatric TB drug crisis in Madhya Pradesh and other states. Under India's public TB treatment programme, the Central government is responsible for buying drugs and distributing them to the states which then provide treatment. While state officials complained that they are not receiving the medicine from the Centre, officials of Central government did not accept that there is a drug crisis in the country.

No medicines for the sick

A country with the highest burden of tuberculosis in the world, India is running out of critical drugs needed to treat children and those with drug-resistant TB. Blessina Kumar, vice-president of global advocacy group Stop TB, says, “For the procurement year 2012-13, for which supplies would have been expected by mid-2013, the tendering process and finalization of the bids has not been completed. It points to a systemic problem in the Indian TB programme. Every year inefficiencies in procurement and distribution lead to stock-out and treatment interruptions. We have decided to take action.”

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a statement on Wednesday, describing the suffering of TB patents. MSF urged the Indian government to address the persistent issues and almost routine delays in procuring drugs to treat TB. “As a TB treatment provider, MSF is witnessing the impact this is having on our own patients”, says Homa Mansoor, the TB medical referent for MSF India. “Other patients have been forced to purchase medicines from private pharmacies, but have received lower-dosage drugs, which – if it causes a patient to under-dose on that drug – could lead to resistance,” he adds. The drug is not available in the market as well.

Drugs going out of stock at the facility level may lead to further TB drug resistance in patients who are forced to interrupt their treatment. In the case of children with TB, some treatment providers are resorting to breaking adult pills to give to children – a method which could over- or under-dose them.


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