Tuberculosis Still a Problem for Developing India

Though the medical revolution and affluence of the west have all but eliminated one of the world's deadliest diseases from the public eye, tuberculosis still poses a massive problem and a deadly threat in developing nations like India.

The New Yorker reports that each year nearly two million new cases are reported, with about 1000 people dying each day from the disease. These numbers are higher in India than anywhere else in the world. Beyond the sheer volume of the death toll, tuberculosis is the leading killer of the main workhorse of the labor force - those between the ages of 15 and 45.

Despite the severity of the disease the real problem with tuberculosis is not, in fact, medicating it, the New Yorker said. Though far from quick or painless, several effective channels of treatment in the form of antibiotic batteries have been developed. What poses a much larger problem than curing TB is correctly diagnosing it.

According to the New Yorker, the tests that are currently used to determine TB infection look for antibodies designed to fight the disease present in a patient's body. The great majority of cases, however, are entirely dormant and never manifest into a full-blown infection, the New Yorker said. This leads to countless cases of people with the antibodies for fighting TB but not an active instance of the disease unnecessarily following the lengthy drug regimen to cure it. All this does is strengthen the resistant strains so that medicating it in the future becomes more and more difficult.

Beyond the problems inherent to the disease itself, many of India's problems with it stem from how TB is being addressed (and taken advantage of) by its people. Hospitals, the New Yorker reported, are constantly swamped with patients. So many flock to them for care that there is no hope of treating all who request it. Luckily, they don't have to because the crooked doctors refer as many people as possible to their own private practices.

Instead of using the hospital's $50,000 machine to successfully and accurately diagnose TB with relative ease, these doctors push people with no other option into a health care black market. Here, the doctors are entitled to a massive cut of all the costs that the patient accrues for treatment and they don't have to worry about government regulations on the safety or sterility of their procedures, the New Yorker said.

Those in charge of India's health care and fighting TB still maintain hope even in light of the country's terrible health crisis. New technology developed in the US originally for detecting biological pathogens sent through mail has been augmented to produce reliable test results in a mere two hours.

"Which of you are sick? We need to know," Camilla Rodrigues, who runs the microbiology department at Mumbai's Hinduja Hospital, said. "And finally, after more than a century we can know. At this point, it is just a matter of will"

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This page contains a single entry by Chris Cooper published on November 20, 2010 2:49 PM.

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