Considered by chest experts as a ‘miracle drug’ for the rising drug resistance population in India, Bedaquiline will soon become available as a part of second line treatment of tuberculosis for patients suffering from multi-drug resistance (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) strains of the bacteria.
According to Dr Jagdish Prasad, Director General of Health Services, the drug will be made available across India within three months. It recently underwent clinical trials at national level for safety and efficacy results.
With its launch in the markets, four nodal cities— Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata— will control its distribution to required districts. “Bedaquiline’s distribution will be strictly regulated.
Since drug resistance is increasing, this drug cannot be allowed easy access,” said Dr Sunil Khaparde, deputy director general of TB Control Programme.
Drug resistance is a condition when the body stops responding to a particular drug and does not get treated due to increased resistance of the bacteria strain. In case of TB, cases of drug resistance are rising steadily. Currently, data provided by the national TB control unit shows that there are 65,000 MDR and 2,500 XDR TB cases in India. “While the total TB count is 1.5 million, we suspect the actual figure is close to 2.5 million,” Prasad admitted.
While chest experts are happy with Bedaquiline’s availability, which had to be imported till now after several levels of permissions, they warn against its unregulated use. Dr Zarir Udwadia, chest specialist at Hinduja Hospital, Mahim, said that until now the drug was available on “compassionate grounds” for selected patients. “Now, the process of availing the medicines will become easier. However, the drug has to be used with great caution. Already, we have patients who are resistant to the Bedaquiline drug. If it is used for all cases, the resistance to this drug will be quicker,” he said.
Additionally, the central government is also increasing its funding under the TB programme from Rs 300 crore to Rs 700 crore per annum. “We are soon going to start free medicines for all patients in Maharashtra,” Prasad said. Until now, only patients enrolled under RNTCP were getting access to free medication.