June 17, 2013

The Indian government must urgently address the almost routine delays in procuring drugs to treat tuberculosis (TB), international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

Across India there are stock-outs of pediatric TB drugs and those used to treat drug-resistant TB (DR-TB). Under India's public TB treatment program, the central government is responsible for buying drugs and distributing them to the states, which then provide treatment.

“India has such a high burden of tuberculosis,” said Leena Menghaney of MSF’s Access Campaign. “This stock-out can cost lives. The government must act urgently to fix the problems.”

The stock-out is related to the routine but deadly delay in tendering for these drugs. The resulting drug stock-outs are one of the reasons why India has one of the world's highest burdens of DR-TB.

“MSF is witnessing the impact this is having on our patients,” said Dr. Homa Mansoor. “I saw a girl arrive with her father after a long journey to get her medicine. The medicines were out of stock, but luckily we had six days worth of drugs from a patient who had died. Otherwise, we’re having to resort to breaking adult pills to give to children, which is really dangerous as it could over- or under-dose them.”

Other patients have been forced to purchase medicines from private pharmacies, but have received lower-dosage drugs, which can lead to resistance if a patient under-doses.

“A continuous, sustainable supply of quality-assured medicines is vital for TB patients,” Dr Mansoor said. “As a doctor, I know the disease, I know how to manage it, but I feel powerless because we don’t have the medicines.”

“India talks of scaling up DR-TB treatment, but finds the medicine cabinet empty at a time when the most vulnerable patients — those diagnosed with DR-TB — are most desperate to get the medicines that can treat them,” Dr Mansoor added.

In 2012, MSF treated 31,000 people in 36 countries for TB, 1,780 of whom had drug-resistant forms of the disease.

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