Thin India presence at global TB conference

For a country with one of the highest TB burdens in the world, the presence of barely a handful of key officials from its Central TB Division was immediately noticeable at the 43rd, and largest ever, Union World Conference on Lung Health at Kuala Lumpur.

Officials such as the deputy director general of the Central TB Division were absent. It was a number of technical consultants to the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme who participated in the conference, discussing the rapid scale-up of technological tests and other aspects.

Dr Madhukar Pai, an associate professor at McGill University, Montreal, who is researching the prospect of cheaper and more accessible diagnostics, expressed surprise that after taking such ambitious decisions as banning serological tests, the Indian government representation was inadequate.

"The government deserves kudos for making TB a notifiable disease but then they need to come here and spell out their strategies," Pai said. "India's National Rural Health Mission has allocated sufficient funds and the TB control budget has doubled. Yet we are faced with a huge problem of drug resistance."

Blessina Kumar, a TB-HIV patients' rights activist and vice-chairperson of the Stop-TB Partnership Coordination Board, too, noted India's weak presence. "India is among the least represented countries at the conference despite a courageous stand on banning serological tests for TB and making the disease a notifiable one," Kumar told The Indian Express.

She led a march of some 100 TB activists through the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, landing at the opening ceremony conference just as delegates were taking their seats. They demanded bigger targets for stopping TB, the funding to meet these, and an end to the use of "detrimental language" for the TB community. "The conference is where everyone in the TB world comes together," Kumar said. "If it were to pass without any significant activist visibility, our calls for action would remain just words."

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