India contributes to 27 per cent of the burden of tuberculosis in the world. However, diligent efforts and constant determination may enable the country to demonstrate leadership in the control of this communicable disease
An alarming number of 2.69 million cases of tuberculosis have been reported in India by the World Health Organisation Report (WHO), 2019. As of now, India contributes to 27 per cent of the global burden of tuberculosis. However, diligent efforts and constant determination may enable the country to demonstrate leadership in the control of this communicable disease. The country, though reeling under an immense population burden, has the potential to achieve tuberculosis elimination through innovations in healthcare technology.
India possesses the capacity to serve as the global centre for innovations focussed on neglected diseases and the current technological advancements that exist are inadequate to bridge gaps in neglected diseases that affect the Indian population. At this juncture, it is important to nurture the innovation ecosystem in India and increase investment in the same. It is imperative to integrate cutting-edge technology and systems in all aspect of healthcare, particularly surveillance and monitoring mechanisms, diagnostic technologies, treatment approaches, preventive and palliative strategies and the systems required to make healthcare available and accessible to all those in need.
The National Strategic Plan 2017-2025 for tuberculosis elimination by the Government endorses innovations and technologies through collaborative efforts by Government bodies and organisations, including civil society organisations and the private sector players.
It is on these lines that the India Health Fund (IHF) was conceptualised to strengthen the health ecosystem by bridging the gap between the laboratory and the market and translating proof-of-concepts into a sustainable impact.
The health fund aims to foster out-of-the-box thinking aimed at eliminating tuberculosis and malaria by 2025 and 2030 respectively, which is aligned with the vision of the Government. In an attempt to serve as a catalyst for change, it provides a platform for innovators to support strategic products and processes that would result in reduction of suffering and deaths occurring due to these infectious diseases.
The IHF recently launched the TB Quest 2019 post a rigorous screening and evaluation process to award novel pathways towards addressing the multiple challenges of tuberculosis that result in huge economic and human costs. One of the awardees were innovators working to address the pressing problem of delayed tuberculosis diagnosis in remote areas using artificial intelligence and deep learning technology for imaging for quick and accurate diagnosis.
Another awardee is working on preventing transmission of tuberculosis from animals to humans with a novel diagnostic kit that uses a combination of native and recombinant antigens to detect bovine tuberculosis. Sputum collection has proven to be time-consuming and inaccurate at times, so to address this problem, another firm created an immune-magnetic cell capture technology that replaces sputum smear microscopy as a method for diagnosing tuberculosis.
For efficient implementation of tuberculosis diagnostics at the district and sub-district level of healthcare delivery, yet another innovator developed a real-time quantitative micro-PCR system with the aim of bringing battery-operated, point-of-care Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing and molecular diagnosis to patients.
The Centre for Health Research and Innovation (CHRI), in partnership with an innovator aims to enable faster diagnosis and treatment initiation of tuberculosis patients through this system, allowing primary healthcare workers to diagnose tuberculosis in primary health settings where microscopy is the sole diagnostic technique available.
Further, a device called Tuberculosis Monitoring Encouragement Adherence Drive that is aimed at improving drug adherence was another path-breaking technology that was recognised and awarded. To ensure a smooth transition from the laboratories to the markets for these technologies, a team of scientists, public health and medical practitioners will guide and mentor the innovators in their journey. Furthermore, the IHF aims to create a platform for these innovators by mobilising resources and building public-private partnerships to initiate innovative solutions, business models and bring a transformative change.
Innovations that combine affordability along with ground-breaking technology should be encouraged and supported to the very last mile. Elimination of tuberculosis from India will be achieved by breaking the silos, forging partnerships, creating novel business models and extending support to innovations curated by young entrepreneurs.
A comprehensive and collaborative platform involving public and private stakeholders can facilitate this process and accelerate the process of elimination of such diseases from India.
(Writer: Manoj Kumar; Courtesy: The Pioneer)