Ministry of Health and Family Welfare through its Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK) has rolled out a universal screening for children below 18 years to identify the early signs of tuberculosis and leprosy. The new programme is expected to screen 25 crore children annually and refer them for diagnosis in nearest health centres. Reports suggest that the exercise will be executed in two ways through the RBSK mobile teams. While the children aged between 0-6 years will be screened in Anganwadi centres, other children will be screened in government and government-aided schools.
It is learnt that the government has also changed the RBSK format to include the screening data of children suffering from both diseases. The latest program appears as a face saver from the government after it fared badly in limiting the impact of the diseases. By his own admissions, former Health Minister J P Nadda, in an article in Lancet Magazine, said that tuberculosis "not only exacts a terrible mortality toll in India, it also has profound financial implications”.
The study further stated that the disease keeps people from escaping poverty for seven years even after they have completed the TB treatment. While the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government aims to make India TB-Free by 2025 against the universal global target year 2030, Lancet commission report on Tuberculosis this year estimated that it would take until 2100 to reach India’s “End TB” goals, even if it takes “extreme measures.”
Also read: PM’s Promise to Eradicate TB by 2025 Far-fetched?
The latest program may bring some improvement in India's fight against Tuberculosis which claims at least 4,00,000 lives annually. Various studies suggest that India is also home to 27% of Tuberculosis patients worldwide. Experts further maintain that the impact of the diseases could not be controlled as more than a million patients seek diagnosis in the private sector which are not often notified. A similar scenario persists with Leprosy too. Independent estimates maintain that India is home to 66% leprosy patients. However, experts are wary of the exercise which may not yield much results.
Talking to NewsClick, Dr Sunder Raman, Former Director, National Health Systems Resource Centre, said that the exercise may not be worthwhile as it lacks concentration on the infected persons and prevalence rate is also low among these groups.
On being asked about the spending on public health and the fight against Tuberculosis, he said, "It is related in two ways. First, the investment has stagnated over the years. For example, the total investments are upto 5 to 8% of the total requirement if we take medicine, technology and human resources under Ayushmaan Bharat scheme. Second, the fight must be coupled with programs aimed at reducing malnourishment and strengthening primary health network. Without this, the fight will be a farce."
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