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Concerted effort needed to fight tuberculosis

Even in the face of great gains versus tuberculosis, the Department of Health and various TB groups urged the continuance of coordinated government and private-sector efforts against the disease.

During the celebration of World TB Day on March 24, the World Health Organization is pushing for renewed commitment in the global fight against TB, which in 2013, caused ill to nine million people and 1.5 million deaths.

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Echoing the same sentiments of the WHO, various nongovernment groups and the healthcare industry in a press conference leading to the local celebration of World TB Day on March 23, expressed solid support for the DOH’s fight against the disease.

‘Multisectoral support’

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The nationwide organization of healthcare practitioners which is the leading proponent of the DOH’s anti-TB program Philippine Coalition Against Tuberculosis (PhilCAT) and patient support group Samahan ng Lusog Baga, together with pharmaceutical company Pfizer, called for a “multisectoral support,” and the need for open dialogue and close coordination in fulfilling the various aspects of the DOH’s anti-TB program DOTS (directly observed treatment, short course).

Tuberculosis, or TB, is an infectious bacterial disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis that commonly affects the lungs. Transmitted from person to person via droplets, TB has symptoms that include coughing (sometimes with sputum or blood), chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats. TB is treatable with a six-month course of antibiotics.

There has been a marked decline in TB cases since the launch of the DOTS in 1996. According to the WHO Mortality Report 2014, the mortality rate decreased from 55 per 100,000 population (1990) to 27 per 100,000 (2013), while the prevalence rate decreased from 1,000 per 100,000 population (1990) to 438 per 100,000 population (2013). The incidence rate also fell from 393 new cases per 100,000 population (1990) to 292 new cases per 100,000 population (2013).

In fact, the US Agency for International Development, also last March 24, honored the DOH as “TB Champion” for its “outstanding work in the fight against TB,” achieving, three years ahead of the 2015 deadline, the WHO’s Millennium Development Goals of reducing by half TB prevalence and mortality rates relative to the 1990 baseline.

Recent advances against it notwithstanding, TB remains a serious health concern. The country remains eighth among the 22 high-burdened countries in terms of TB cases; it is estimated that one-third of Filipinos are infected with TB. TB is also the sixth leading cause of mortality based on Philippine Health Statistics of 2009—27,000 Filipino dead each year—and is the eighth leading cause of morbidity as of 2010.

3 key problems

Still burdening TB-fighting efforts, said Dr. Ana Marie Celine Garfin, DOH-National TB Control Program manager, are problems like the “missing” TB cases (the gap between the actual number of people with TB and the number of them included in the national TB program in a given year); access to health centers and health workers; and the stigma associated with the disease.

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This is why the government is continually educating the public about TB, and most importantly, encouraging them to seek treatment. “Our strategy is not just to find them but to treat them completely,” Dr. Garfin said.

The health department is currently intensifying its case-finding among high-risk groups; improving access for diagnosis and treatment (by engaging public, private hospitals, jails and the community; scaling-up diagnosis and treatment facilities (which include the use of GenExpert, a cartridge-based, automated diagnostic test to detect TB presence); and expanding the PhilHealth TB outpatient package to include drug-resistant TB cases.

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TAGS: government-private coordination, health and wellness, Tuberculosis
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