New Delhi: Doctors, health workers and pharmacists could be jailed for up to two years for failing to report cases of tuberculosis, a health ministry notification has said, a few days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would eliminate the disease by 2025.
With around 2.8 million cases, India has the highest number of tuberculosis patients, the World Health Organisation’s TB Report-2017 says. The country reported 423,000 TB deaths in 2017 and an average of 211 new infections were diagnosed per 100,000 people.
“Those failing to report… may attract the provisions of sections 269 and 270 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC),” the health ministry’s gazette notification published on Tuesday said.
TB was made a notifiable disease in 2012 but inadequate reporting is the biggest problem the government faces in controlling the disease.
Notifiable diseases have to be reported to the authorities so that they can act in time to prevent or contain an outbreak.
Ten countries account for 76% of the gap between the incidence of tuberculosis and reported cases, with India topping the list at 25%, followed by Indonesia at 16% and Nigeria at 8%, the WHO report says.
Now that the focus was on elimination of TB by 2025, it was important to track down every single case and give them the right treatment, Arun Jha, economic adviser to the health ministry, said.
“This is the first time we have invoked IPC sections that will be applicable to all,” Jha said.
Section 270 says a malignant act likely to spread infectious disease dangerous to life could land a person in jail for up to two years, or with fine, or both.
Section 269 says a negligent act likely to spread infection of a dangerous disease will be punished with imprisonment of up to six months, or fine, or both.
“The unregulated private sector is our biggest challenge as many don’t notify cases or follow the standard TB treatment protocol,” a health ministry official said.
Nearly 60% patients go to the private sector for treatment before approaching the public sector, which made tracking of cases difficult, the official said.
Elimination, defined as restricting new infections to less than one case per 100,000 people, is possible only if patients get diagnosed and cured without any break in treatment.
Interruptions can exponentially raise the patient’s risk of developing multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), which is harder to treat.