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It’s the simple truth: you can't treat a disease until you diagnose it. Tuberculosis (TB)—even drug-resistant varieties—can usually be cured, but time is of the essence. Until the highly contagious disease is treated, it continues to spread.

India is home to the most TB cases in the world, so containing the disease is a national priority. But diagnosis can be challenging, especially for drug-resistant TB.

The story of Dr. Aparna Srikantam and the Blue Peter Public Health & Research Centre demonstrates the challenges—and the rewards. With funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), PATH is expanding diagnostic capacity across India and improving TB laboratory safety. The result: people with TB have a better chance to get the right treatment quickly—before it’s too late.

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In India, it’s estimated that every year 300,000 children whose parents have TB drop out of school, often to work. At a clinic in New Delhi, a girl watches her mother as she takes her TB medications. Drug-resistant TB requires more than two years of treatment.

Photo: WHO/TBP/Gary Hampton.

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Until recently, it took up to three months for patients to get a diagnosis for drug-resistant TB from the Blue Peter Public Health & Research Centre in Hyderabad.

Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

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“By the time the results came, often the patients would have already died, or patients had deteriorated and didn’t respond to treatment,” says Dr. Aparna Srikantam, head of the center’s microbiology division. In the year before the lab collaborated with PATH, 68 patients died before they could receive treatment.

Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

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Without a safe environment, labs can’t do rapid diagnosis. To upgrade the safety of the lab, the team needed outside expertise and funding. Fortunately, they were able to make critical upgrades with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and PATH.

Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

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Patient samples are sent from outlying clinics to the lab, which serves four districts with a combined population of 17 million people.

Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

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With the lab now upgraded to a higher level of biosafety, it can process live TB specimens. “We’ve created a very safe environment, so there’s no risk to the health care workers,” says Dr. Srikantam. Here, dozens of specimens are incubated. Later, they’ll be examined for growth of TB bacteria.

Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

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And with new diagnostic capabilities, including molecular testing, lab workers can diagnose drug-resistant TB in days instead of months.

Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

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The upgraded lab is a relief for staff and patients. Within four months, the team diagnosed more than 300 patients with drug-resistant TB, opening the way for lifesaving treatment. As a result, more people have a chance at surviving the disease while fewer people will be exposed.

Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

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This project was funded by the United States Agency for International Development. For more information about PATH’s work to address tuberculosis, visit the PATH website. For more information about USAID, visit www.usaid.gov.

Photo: USAID.