TB patients will need Aadhaar for cash benefits

Tuberculosis patients, hospitals and healthcare workers availing cash assistance from the government will need to register with the Aadhaar database by August 31, according to the Union Health Ministry.

A gazette notification on June 16 says ‘…an individual eligible to receive the benefit under the Scheme is, hereby, required to furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar number or undergo Aadhaar authentication.’

The Scheme refers to the government’s Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP). Since 2012, the government requires that patients diagnosed with TB and availing treatment be registered with Nikshay, a web-based application used by the authorities to track funds, treatment outcomes and health providers connected to the RNTCP. It is being implemented by State governments and Union Territory administrations via government health facilities and registered private health facilities across the country.

Patients would not be denied diagnosis or treatment for want of an Aadhaar number, Sunil Khaparde, a senior official in the Ministry told The Hindu. However, any “prospective cash benefits” given to patients would now be directed to the Aadhaar-linked bank accounts of beneficiaries. Mr. Khaparde did not clarify what proportion of funds spent on TB control was directed to cash transfers except that “it was a small amount”.

Currently, the government provides cash benefits to patients who are tribals, and health care workers involved with the DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment, Short Course). But to meet TB elimination goals, the cash benefits are likely to be made available to all patients, Mr. Khaparde said. There were also instances of the same people registered multiple times, he added, and an Aadhaar number would help avoid duplication. Previous experience suggests that in spite of treatment being free, patients incur considerable expenditure on nutritional supplements to ensure they can benefit from the TB drug regimen.

Cash benefits to such patients, incentives to health care providers, and health facilities that report and monitor patients, are eligible for various financial incentives, all of which would now be through Aadhaar-linked accounts.

Vinod Kumar, Deputy Superintendent at the Government Hospital for Thoracic Medicine, Chennai, said that the Aadhaar link could help hospitals better track their patients and help ensure that patients did not drop off midway during the six-month treatment. The hospital sees around 500 out-patients every day, about 10% of whom are fresh cases.

The World Health Organization has said that tuberculosis epidemic in India was “larger” than what had been previously estimated and asserted that the country was one of six nations which accounted for 60% of the new cases in 2015. According to reports, the prevalence of TB in India was at 217 per 1,00,000 population in 2015 as against the previously estimated 127. The government has pledged its commitment to eliminate tuberculosis by 2025, five years ahead of the global goal to reduce the number of such deaths by 90 per cent by 2030.

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