Updated: September 12, 2015 12:20:11 am
When President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak about the renewed partnership between our countries, they highlight partnerships and cooperation on issues ranging from trade to security, education to health. The United States and India are working together to tackle problems and create opportunities for advancement in each of these areas, but perhaps the most important partnerships aren’t always the stuff of trade negotiations and security resolutions. Beginning this week, the US, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is partnering with the Government of India (GoI), the private sector and civil society to reduce tuberculosis in India.
While it doesn’t often make headlines, TB is a silent killer that needs to be stopped. TB is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest infectious killer disease worldwide, and India has the highest TB burden in the world, accounting for almost 25 per cent of global TB cases. With proper diagnosis and treatment, TB can be cured. However, too many people with TB don’t seek care for early symptoms and get properly diagnosed. Of those in whom the disease is detected, many do not complete their treatment. We need to end TB in India, so TB does not decrease productivity, weaken communities or shorten lives.
As a first step, we want to raise awareness and reduce the stigma around TB. Anyone, anywhere is vulnerable to this disease, from the youngest of babies to the most powerful of men and women. That’s why Amitabh Bachchan has stepped up as the spokesperson of this partnership programme. He contracted TB approximately 15 years ago, and underwent a year-long course of antibiotics to regain his health. If TB can affect The Big B, it can affect anyone.
Having TB doesn’t mean that someone is poor; it means that they need to get diagnosed and treated, now.
Fortunately, our investment and partnership on this issue are tried and tested. Through the USAID and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the US has been actively engaged in working alongside the GoI for many years, investing close to $100 million over the last 18 years to prevent and control TB in India. During that time, we have seen dramatic improvements in diagnosis and care, and over 15 million patients have been treated for TB. But it is not enough, and it is clear that governments alone cannot end TB. Together, we have come to realise that we need a multi-sectoral approach in which partners, both public and private, collaborate to achieve this ambitious yet attainable goal. Ratan Tata and the Tata Trust were the first to embrace this new partnership, and that’s how the Call to Action was born.
You’ll see evidence of the campaign over the coming days and months, first in urban sites and later in community health clinics across the country. The Call to Action needs you, too. If you own a business, we invite you to join our corporate campaign. If you support a family, we want to empower you to protect your family by giving you information needed to detect early symptoms of the disease. If you are a member of the community, we want you to engage with public health officials to support the Call to Action for a TB-free India.
As Indian scriptures say, “Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah (Let all be happy, let all be free from illness)”. Together with you, India and the United States are making the world a safer, healthier place.
The writer is US ambassador to India
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