– The Associated Press

NEW DELHI – India’s inadequate government-run tuberculosis treatment programs and a lack of regulation of the sale of drugs that fight the disease are responsible for the spiraling number of drug-resistant cases that are difficult to treat, health activists said Friday.

India adds an estimated 99,000 cases of drug-resistant TB every year, but only a tiny fraction of those infected receive the proper drugs to treat the stubborn disease through the government-funded program. Saturday marked World Tuberculosis Day.

The original form of the disease can be easily cured by taking antibiotics for six to nine months. But if that treatment is interrupted or the dose is cut, the bacteria battle back by mutating into a tougher strain that can no longer be killed by standard drugs, making it harder and more expensive to treat.

The easy availability of TB drugs in the private market and the casual over-the-counter sale of antibiotics is fueling the development of drug resistance, Piero Gandini, head of Doctors Without Borders in India, said in a statement.

“There is an urgent need for regulatory control of sale and administration of TB drugs in the private sector,” he said.

The organization and other health groups also said India’s TB control program provides treatment to patients only on alternate days. They argue it increases the risk that patients, most of whom are poor daily wage laborers, will miss doses.