Faster TB test proves more sensitive too

A faster method to test for tuberculosis has also proved more effective in a pilot project undertaken at 18 sites in the country.

The cartridge-based nucleic acid amplification test (CBNAAT), also called GeneXpert, has increased the detection rate at the 18 labs where it has been introduced, according to the results of a baseline survey. From World TB Day in March till October, 22,345 patients suspected with TB were tested with both CBNAAT and traditional procedures, with 20 per cent returning positive from the new method against 10-12 per cent from the century-old, sputum smear microscopy test.

"The utility of this new test is mainly that it has helped increase the detection of TB cases," Dr Neeraj Raizada, medical officer of Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), told The Indian Express.

Central TB division officials said FIND is a technical partner of the government in looking for ways to detect TB cases faster. FIND is a not-for-profit foundation recognised by the Swiss government as an "other international organisation". With offices in a number of countries including India, it has been working closely with local authorities on introducing new tools into existing systems. In Maharashtra, Dr Sharad Sabnis, director of the state TB control programme, said GenXpert tests has begun at Dharavi, Mumbai while those in Amravati will start soon.

The test's other major advantage is that it reduces the diagnosis time from eight weeks to two hours for a drug-resistant TB patient, and treatment can start immediately.

The flip side is that GeneXpert detects cases that are strugling for treatment anyway. Dr Zareer Udwadia, chest physician at Mumbai's Hinduja Hospital, agreed GeneXpert is a great device to identify drug-resistant TB cases, but questioned if India has the capacity to treat such huge numbers. Less than 1 per cent multi-drug resistant TB cases are being treated at government centres, he said, stressing the need to roll out better treatment strategies.

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