India's presentation at the World Conference on Lung Health at Liverpool in the United Kingdom began with a video of film star Amitabh Bachchan. “My name is Amitabh Bachchan. I am a TB survivor,” said Bachchan in the video, going on to relay his tryst with tuberculosis of the spine, its associated hazards and how he is among the few privilgeded to get quick and effective treatment.

Unfortunately, Indian government officials seem to count video and Bachchan's role as an ambassador against TB among their achievements in the battle against the disease at a time when the World Health Organisation has data showing that India had been underestimating its tuberculosis burden by almost half.


The Global TB Report released by the WHO earlier this month also revealed that India withheld evidence of this massive underreporting of cases collected by them for at least five years. Recalculated figures show that India had a 2.8 million new cases in 2015, as compared to 1.7 million cases that India's TB programme was showing in its annual report.

Indian officials at the Liverpool conference seem to have side-stepped these inconvenient facts. Journalists covering the session chaired by Dr Jagdish Prasad, director general of health services in India, tweeted that the Indian government bragged about Amitabh Bachchan’s support to the Call to Action for TB Free India campaign as well as having 499 articles about tuberculosis in the media.

But health activists at the conference were having none of it. A group of activists working on TB disrupted a session chaired by Prasad. The Treatment Action Group is running a campaign online called #BrokenTBPromises which counts each day passed since the Indian government announced it would roll out fixed dose combination treatment for children and people with HIV in December 2014.

But, Prasad reportedly said that they did not want to discuss out problems in a foreign land. He is also quoted as saying that policy decisions take time to materialise, not different from how a boy's family takes six months to decide on a marriage with a particular girl.

While Prasad was presenting, the Indian journalists covering the proceedings tweeted live. The journalists tweeted that Prasad downplayed the disruption, and said that the protest has now value, calling the protesters mentally unwell as well.

Currently, the government runs the Directly Observed Treatment Short or DOTS course for TB treatment where the patients would take seven or eight anti-TB medicines on alternate days of the week. Each dose is handed over by the healthcare provider at a clinic. This is very cumbersome for a patient, and difficult for a patient to follow through, often causing drug resistance. The adherence of the treatment is lower among HIV-TB patients.

The activists have been asking for a simplification of the regime by having a fixed-dose combination treatment which involves taking only 3-4 pills, as opposed to the 8-9 pills. The fixed-dose combination treatment will be a daily regime which is less confusing regime for the patient to follow through.

“By today’s count, this promise has gone unfulfilled for 662 days,” said Mike Frick, senior project officer for TB and HIV, as quoted in the Treatment Action Group press release on the protest. Treatment Action Group is a policy think tank that works towards better treatment for HIV patients.

The other nine gaps identified by the activists include preventive therapy for HIV-positive children who have TB co-infection, scale up of drug susceptibility testing and GeneXpert that can diagnose drug-resistant TB, among others.