TB: Social media campaign launched to get Indian government to act

In a desperate bid to urge the Indian government to gets its act together on TB diagnosis and treatment, the Treatment Action Group (TAG) today launched a social media campaign using Twitter called #BrokenTBPromises. The campaign urges the government to live up to promises it has made but has failed to keep in nine areas of TB programme.  TAG is an independent AIDS research and policy think tank fighting for better treatment, a vaccine, and a cure for AIDS. The nine policies have been “delayed time and again” or have been rolled out only in a limited way, the TAG blogs says. “People with and vulnerable to TB in India cannot bear anymore broken promises from their government.”

“It’s clear that without intensified public scrutiny and outside pressure, chronic delays will continue to undermine the drive toward a ‘TB-Free India,’ announced with much fanfare but little follow-through last year,” says a mail sent by TAG to people working in the field of TB, both in India and abroad. The campaign started today with two tweets tagging @PMOIndia. TAG will be tweeting every day at 9 am Indian time and the focus will initially be on the introduction of daily Fixed-dose Combination (FDC) TB drugs.

“In December 2014, the RNTCP [Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme] announced that it would provide FDCs to people with HIV starting in 104 districts in five States. As of August 1, 2016 — 579 days since the announcement in late 2014 — the roll-out of FDCs is yet to occur,” it says. It is not just the delay but also the government’s attitude to deliver on its promise, particularly the FDCs, that has ticked the NGO. “Each time Indian civil society groups, lead by networks of people living with HIV/AIDS, have written to the RNTCP, the deadline for procuring and delivering FDCs gets pushed farther and farther back. This happened again just last week,” the mail reads. To begin with, TAG is urging the government to fix the #BrokenTBPromises by starting the provision of daily FDCs drugs to people with HIV and children.

“Starting tomorrow [August 1], Treatment Action Group will publicly count up each day that passes without daily FDCs. We will only stop the count when daily FDCs are available to people with HIV and children with TB nationwide,” the mail says.

The NGO plans to exert pressure on the government by tweeting on other delayed TB projects in the second and third week of the campaign.

Ensuring FDCs are provided to needy people is not the only promise the government has not kept. “As the count goes on, we will call on Prime Minister Modi to make good on several other TB programmes and policies,” the blog says.

These programmes include: the national roll out of TB diagnostic test GeneXpert; the scale-up of drug-susceptibility testing; the roll-out of bedaquiline, a new generation drug for MDR-TB patients; the provision of isoniazid preventive therapy for people with HIV and children under five years who have come in contact with people with TB; the provision of rifabutin  for treatment of HIV-associated TB and; the phase out of the category II retreatment regimen.

“Until these programs and policies are in place, people affected by TB in India will be left waiting on the platform, staring down the empty tracks, for a TB elimination campaign that never arrived.”

“Join our count by following and re-tweeting messages from @TAGteam_tweets using the hash tag #BrokenTBPromises and tagging @PMOIndia, the official twitter account of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. You can also write to Narendra Modi directly by filling out the short formWrite your own message, or use the template provided under the tab “Take Action,” found at the top of this page,” the blog urges all concerned people.

The reason why TAG has taken this unusual route to exert pressure on the Indian government is because the way India responds to the TB epidemic will have a telling global impact.

It may be recalled that the Union Health Minister had on April 23, 2015 launched the TB Free India Campaign to much fanfare. But even a year later the campaign has all but not taken off. As a result, many programmes — from diagnosis to prevention — essential to stop TB on its track are yet to be implemented.

Every year, about 2.2 million people in India are diagnosed with TB disease and about 250,000 die from this disease which can be easily prevented, treated and cured. “Every death due to TB is avoidable and represents the failure of India’s government to uphold the human rights of its citizens,” the TAG blog says.