TB should be seriously tackled

Editorial

IT is worrying that around 30,000 people in this country are infected with Tuberculosis.
It is also worrying, as pointed out recently by a senior public servant, that Port Moresby, the main venue of the APEC leaders meeting in less than 14 months’ time, has 45 per cent of this TB burden.
Of course this is not suggesting that the presidents, prime ministers and dignitaries from around the world should be wearing masks around our capital city to ensure they do not catch the virus.
What the statistics remind us of  is that we need to seriously tackle this health issue which stares us in the face almost everywhere we go to in our capital city.
TB is spread through the air from one person to another. Bacteria is put into the air when a person with TB coughs, sneezes, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected. It is an airborne infection that causes the bacteria mycobacterium tuberculosis to develop into a disease that destroys organ tissue most commonly in the lungs.
We can start, for example, by prohibiting spitting in public, something we see chewers of betel nuts do so indiscriminately that it seems like a pastime. On-the-spot fines have been tried successfully by some countries.
There is also the high population mobility rate, poor TB control and crowded settlements which contribute to the spread of the disease. Proper monitoring of this in villages and peri-urban areas is important. TB can be fatal if left untreated. And if left untreated,
one person can infect 10 to 15 others.
Out of the 30,000 people infected, one out of four is diagnosed. One out of five receives treatment. Less than half get successfully treated.  The increasing incidences of drug-resistant strains, and limited access to adequate healthcare, has seen more support being received from overseas governments and agencies.
TB remains a significant public health problem with national indicators showing stagnating and, in some provinces, declining treatment success rates.
Increasing incidences due to minimal health care, poor housing and nutrition have contributed to poverty, overcrowding and people failing to complete their treatments.
In fact only 50 per cent of individuals have access to adequate healthcare. Children face the greatest risk of contracting disabling forms of tuberculosis.
According to the PNG Institute for Medical Research, many TB sufferers in remote areas die of the disease without ever receiving a formal diagnosis. And only 50 per cent of those infected  have access to adequate treatment.
This is problematic, as TB recovery can require a daily regimen of injections, oral medication, and supervised medical care for anywhere between six and 24 months. Inconsistent treatment will not  only increase the disease’s severity but also strengthen the infection’s resistance to treatment options.
This is why government commitment is vital. It must maintain a sense of urgency in its emergency response efforts.
Its TB public health education and treatment services have to be prioritised by everyone as a matter of importance.
Last week, Australia allocated a further K129 million to help us fight TB in this country. It is a show of Australia’s concern about a health issues we should be doing more to address.
Australia is also giving K1 million each to Child Fund PNG, World Vision and Family Healthy International (FHI360) for the next 12 months to assist in implementing the NCD TB strategic plan 2016-2020.
We cannot forever rely on our international friends to help with our health problems which we ourselves can solve if we are determined to.
That is why the message has to be taken seriously by each of the eight million or so people in this nation to decrease and eventually eliminate the TB burden.
It’s a burden to our health system, our families and our government. It is a burden we do not have to bear forever.

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