Tuberculosis in India

This week I have been on an official trip to India organised by a charity to see the problem of tuberculosis in the country. I am chairman of a new Parliamentary Group on the issue. We set it up to promote the need for action to tackle a disease which killed 1.6 million last year across the globe - yet is easily treatable and curable.

In a whirlwind tour of this huge sub-continent we have visited Delhi, Chennai (Madrass) and Bangalore, touring hospitals and meeting doctors, nurses and patients and health workers. Most healthcare is delivered privately. Even where drugs can be supplied for free, the challenge is to ensure that patients adhere to a six month treatment programme.

Failure to complete drugs courses has led to the growing problem of drug resistant TB which is far more difficult to treat. Less than half of those treated are cured, and few are lucky enough to receive the drugs.

TB kills 1,000 people a day in India, and the disease is closely linked to poverty. In spite of this nation's extraordinary advances in recent years, like China, there is a widening gap between a newly-affluent middle class and the poor. Half of the population still subsists on less than a dollar a day, which is not sufficient to feed them properly.

We were encouraged to meet some Indian MPs who have formed an equivalent group to address TB in their country. India is the largest democracy in the world - its population of 1.3 billion means that each MP represents 2½ million people, compared to about 70,000 in each UK constituency!

But my strongest memory will be meeting the young men and women at a clinic in Chennai who owed their lives to a devoted charity and a programme, supported by Britain, which cost less than $100 for every life saved.

Michelle Taylor