For the first time, doctors, hospital authorities, chemists and druggists could face a jail term for not notifying tuberculosis (TB) cases.
In a notification on Tuesday, the Union Health Ministry said failure by clinical establishments to notify a tuberculosis patient to the nodal officer and local public health staff can be punished with a jail term of six months to two years under the provisions of Sections 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
While Section 269 provides for a jail term of six months and/ or fine, Section 270 has provision for a jail term of two years and/ or fine.
Clinical establishments as defined in the Clinical Establishment Act, 2010, include a wide range of medical establishments, hospitals, clinics, dispensaries, diagnostic services, including those operated by a single doctor.
While tuberculosis was made a notifiable disease in India in 2012, there was no provision for penal action.
The ministry has issued separate reporting formats for laboratories and medical practitioners, clinics, hospitals, nursing homes etc. “To ensure proper tuberculosis diagnosis and its management in patients and their contacts and to reduce tuberculosis transmission and further to address the problems of emergence and spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis, it is essential to collect complete information of all tuberculosis patients… Healthcare providers, termed as clinical establishments henceforth, shall notify every tuberculosis patient to local public health authority, namely, district health officer or chief medical officer of a district and municipal health officer of urban local bodies in whatever way they are known; or their designated district tuberculosis officers in a format as specified,” says the notification.
Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said India would be free of TB by 2025, five years ahead of the global deadline. He reiterated his commitment at the ‘End TB Summit’ in Delhi last week.
TB kills an estimated 4,80,000 Indians every year. India also has more than a million ‘missing’ cases every year — these are not notified, and most remain either undiagnosed or inadequately diagnosed and treated in the private sector. This means patients don’t stick to the follow-up procedure, and often stop taking medication before the dose is completed, resulting in the bacteria developing a resistance to the drug. This then leads to the spread of drug-resistant TB.