Taking aim at age-old killer
Nov 10, 2012 / 9:29 am
Shammo Khan walks into a dusty courtyard that reeks of garbage, searching for the fingerprint of a man exhausted by HIV, drug withdrawal and the tuberculosis lesions hijacking his lungs.
She opens her laptop on his rope bed, prods the emaciated man to log in on a fingerprint reader and watches him slowly and painfully swallow a handful of TB drugs in an experimental program harnessing new technology to combat an ancient killer still ravaging India.
Private companies, aid groups and the government have embarked on a flurry of innovation to modernize India's archaic anti-tuberculosis campaign and fight the spread of frightening new drug-resistant strains threatening to cause a public health nightmare.
The government is replacing its haphazard paper system of registering TB patients with a Web-based database that theoretically could track every dose of medicine given to patients â€” and send them text messages when they miss one.
New tests powered by computer chips are being rolled out that can quickly identify drug-resistant patients so they can be given the proper treatment with a longer course of different medicines. And Operation ASHA, an independent health group, is using its fingerprint verification program to ensure patients take their full course of medicine to prevent the disease from mutating into a stronger strain.
"There's more innovation in the last year than in the prior decade in TB control," says Peter Small, a tuberculosis expert at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation offices in India.
In addition, the government is proposing to quadruple tuberculosis funding, is expanding its lab network and has ordered doctors for the first time to report all new TB cases.
Tackling a disease that kills 300,000 people a year in a country of 1.2 billion required a concerted effort from everyone involved, said Ashok Kumar, the government's TB czar.
"There cannot be one single solution. There have to be buckets of solutions," he said.
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