Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation opens free TB medicine gate to all


Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation opens free TB medicine gate to all

PUNE: Tuberculosis (TB) patients seeking treatment at private hospitals anywhere in the state will no longer have to pay for the expensive drugs.

At present, only patients registered with government-run healthcare centres have access to the free medicines scheme. Under ‘Universal Access to TB Care’, a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, all patients will get free drugs at designated chemist shops.

A pilot project has been launched in Nagpur district where TB patients registered with private doctors have already started availing of the benefit. The state government aims to take charge of the project from the Gates Foundation, which is currently funding the project in Nagpur, and extend it to other districts within a year.

An approximate 1.2 lakh new TB cases are detected in Maharashtra every year. The number of multi-drug resistant (MDR) cases is about 7,000 and that of extremely drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) cases is around 200. The aim is to ensure patients adhere to the treatment schedule and complete medication.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation opens free TB medicine gate to all

State tuberculosis officer Sanjeev Kamble said, “The private sector plays a significant role in healthcare delivery in the country in general and in TB care, in particular. About 50% patients seek treatment at public healthcare centres while the remaining go to private sector doctors. So far, the government has been providing free treatment to patients enrolled only with the government hospitals. We wish to extend the benefit to patients treated by private doctors.”

Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari launched the project, ‘Universal Access to TB care’ in Nagpur on September 14. “The project’s scope is currently limited to Nagpur district. The funding of the pilot project – which is currently pegged at Rs 1.5 crore for a year – is borne by the Gates Foundation. The state will take over the charge and implement it across the state,” Kamble said.

As a part of the project, a call centre has been set up in New Delhi. Private doctors treating TB patients only need to register the patient’s name with the call centre operator, who will generate a voucher number which will also be mentioned on prescription note and sent to the patient through SMS. By showing the voucher number, the patient can collect free anti-TB drugs from designated chemist shops.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation opens free TB medicine gate to all

A large number of TB patients, in countries where the disease prevalence is high, first consult a private practitioner. In India, it is estimated that 46% patients go to private hospitals. “However, TB diagnosis and treatment practices among private practitioners in India vary widely and are not formally regulated. Providing universal access to quality treatment will greatly help reduce the disease burden,” said another state health official.

Diabetologist T C Rathod, the president of the state chapter of Indian Medical Association (IMA), welcomed the move. “It becomes extremely difficult for patients from the lower middle class to complete treatment till the disease is cured. Many patients leave treatment midway as they cannot afford to finish the complete dose of medicines. The move will greatly help patients and increase disease detection and cure rate.”

India bears 21% of the global burden of incident TB cases and estimates for 2008 show that about 1,31,000 MDR-TB cases emerged in India, representing over 20% of the global incidence of MDR-TB. HIV prevalence among TB patients is reported to be 4.85%.


Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation opens free TB medicine gate to all