By Vaishakhi Mallik
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only caused havoc in health care systems, economies, and people’s lives over the past three years—it has also reversed years of progress made by India in its fight against tuberculosis. World Health Organization’s Global TB Report 2022 reveals the massive impact COVID-19 has had on the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis, which sickens more than 2.5 million Indians each year.
India has set an ambitious goal to eliminate TB by 2025. But TB risk is closely intertwined with other difficult drivers of disease, such as poverty, malnutrition and tobacco use. World TB Day, observed each year on March 24, serves as a reminder that we cannot achieve the urgent goal of ending TB in India unless we simultaneously address tobacco use in the country, which is home to 12% of the world’s tobacco users and 26% of annual TB cases in 2021. Despite the government’s ambitious goal to eliminate TB by 2025, the prevalence of tobacco use in India remains a major driver of the disease.
Crucial to address tobacco use
Addressing tobacco use in India is critical to effectively control and eliminate tuberculosis, which is a major public health crisis in the country. Tobacco use increases the risk of developing TB and worsens outcomes for those with the disease. Moreover, it complicates efforts to control TB and increases the economic burden of TB control efforts.
India has taken some measures to reduce access to tobacco products and highlight the health harms of tobacco use, such as banning advertising and promotions where tobacco is sold and curbing the sale of single cigarettes. To strengthen tobacco control efforts, India should bolster strategies to prevent marketing of tobacco products to young people, especially through online channels such as social media and online film and TV streaming platforms, and make all efforts to curb easy access and affordability of tobacco products for youth.
Need to alert public about the link between tobacco and TB
Stronger messaging is also crucial to emphasize the relationship between tobacco use and TB, and to encourage people to seek medical care if they experience persistent coughing. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s tobacco control mass media campaign ‘TB Cough’, developed and implemented with technical support from Vital Strategies, warned people about the increased risk of tuberculosis illness and death associated with smoking cigarettes or bidis, or being exposed to secondhand smoke. The 30-second public service announcement (PSA) was tested with a target audience who found it effective in communicating the message about the dangers of smoking around others and the risks of contracting TB. The PSA was also effective in making respondents feel more sympathetic to those with TB and making them more likely to visit a doctor if they had TB symptoms. In addition, it increased their confidence to take TB medications if they got sick.
Global response required to eliminate TB
Eliminating TB requires a comprehensive and sustained global response, similar to what has been seen with COVID-19. The fact that G20 countries contribute to 50% of global TB cases highlights the need for these countries to take bold actions to address this public health challenge. To achieve a TB-free India, it is important to ensure that all stakeholders, including governments, health care providers, civil society and individuals, continue to work together. This must involve implementing evidence-based policies and interventions, increasing investments in TB prevention and control, and warning the public about the link between tobacco use and TB. It is crucial to maintain the progress made in TB control efforts before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further compounded the challenges in TB diagnosis and treatment. By prioritizing TB elimination and taking aggressive actions, we can make significant progress towards achieving a TB-free India.
(The author is a Associate Director, Policy Advocacy and Communication, Vital Strategies. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical experts and health professionals before starting any therapy, medication and/or remedy. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)