Following the success of a small laboratory trial, the central government is funding a tuberculosis diagnosis programme that will use a technology to identify tuberculosis bacteria from other micro-organisms — a process estimated to reduce both time and cost. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) will provide Rs 90 lakh for the next three years for the programme.
The initial testing was conducted in Haffkine Institute for Training, Research and Testing. The programme is now expected to test around 450 samples of tuberculosis patients in Nair Hospital as part of the larger trial.
“Initially, our sample size was very small, just about 15 samples. We tested the cerebro-spinal fluid and sputum of patients in our laboratory. The technique we used could quickly identify TB bacteria separately from other micro-organisms,” said Dr Nishigandha Naik, the director of Haffkine Institute, adding that the technology could speed up diagnosis of the disease and allow immediate treatment.
Currently, tuberculosis detection largely relies on GeneXpert machines under the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Program (RNTCP), which may take half-a-day to produce results. “The GeneXperts also have 20 per cent false results. The current technique has found 100 per cent accuracy. But we are yet to ascertain that on a large scale,” Naik said. The test is expected to reduce the turn out time of results to two hours. The cost of each test might range between Rs 100 and Rs 500. A test in GeneXperts, in private healthcare, can cost Rs 2,500 or more for a patient.
Mumbai has witnessed a rise in the number of TB patients and one of the factors is better diagnosis and contact tracing. In 2015, 38,667 and in 2016, 42,115 drug sensitive patients had been diagnosed. In 2017, the count touched 45,675. Mumbai (east) ward that covers Govandi holds the maximum burden of TB.
Across Mumbai, multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) saw a rise from 3,608 in 2015 to 4,891 in 2017. The current technology will only detect TB bacteria to allow immediate treatment. A test to diagnose the bacteria’s drug resistance will be required separately.