FIND, the global alliance for diagnostics, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced that FIND has been awarded over US$37 million to ensure the inception and continuation of three projects dedicated to advancing tuberculosis prevention and control in India.
The projects include: SHAQTI (Strengthening Health systems for sustainable Access to Quality diagnosis towards TB elimination in India), JEET (the Joint Effort for Elimination of TB); and Unite to ACT (Amplifying Community action for TB elimination).
The investment by the Global Fund will optimize TB diagnostic capacity, improve laboratory quality and data management across India’s public sector laboratory network thereby renewing focus on early diagnosis to guide appropriate TB treatment.
The grant will strengthen capacity for genome sequencing for TB surveillance and will expand laboratory capacity for drug-resistant TB treatment monitoring at district level.
Further, the funding will catalyze addressing the latent tuberculosis infection burden in India; sustain the gains under JEET; and build capacity of TB-affected communities by engaging TB survivors as champions and enable meaningful contribution to the design, implementation of the program by promoting rights-based, gender responsive and equitable services to all.
TB remains one of top 10 causes of death worldwide and the leading cause of death from a single infectious agent. COVID-19 is critically derailing global efforts to tackle it.
In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a 50% drop in the number of TB patients diagnosed, which may have resulted in up to 400,000 additional TB deaths.
India accounts for more than one-quarter (26%) of the global TB burden and has the largest share of the global burden of drug-resistant TB. In this country, people newly diagnosed with TB rose from 1.2 million in 2013 to 2.2 million in 2019.
Head of Tuberculosis at the Global Fund, Dr Eliud Wandwalo said: “As India is grappling with the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need, more than ever, to continue supporting the country to advance tuberculosis prevention and control. FIND is an essential partner of the Global Fund and we are excited to join our efforts to expand testing capabilities in India, to maximize our impact in the fight against TB while mitigating the knock-on effects of COVID-19, and to strengthen the health systems to protect the most vulnerable.”
But the impact of lockdowns, TB diagnostic services being reallocated to COVID-19, and pandemic-related disruption of procurement and transportation of medicines and laboratory consumables led to a drastic reduction in notifications between January and June 2020 despite the government’s efforts to contain the pandemic and mitigate its impact on TB programs.
It is estimated that the notification rate fell by 25% compared with the same period in 2019.
Director of Country Programs at FIND and head of the organization’s India office, Dr Sanjay Sarin, said: “India has been a long-standing champion of diagnostic testing as an enabler of equitable, accessible and accurate healthcare services to all citizens. This investment by the Global Fund is crucial to ensure our country not only has the tests it needs, but also the quality assurance strategies that can sustain and improve laboratory services. All three projects being supported are already playing a pivotal role toward a TB-free India and we thank the Global Fund for ensuring they can continue at this critical time.”
Project JEET, project SHAQTI and Unite to ACT are planned to continue running in India until 2024.