The National, Thursday July 11th, 2013
TUBERCULOSIS (TB) is a contagious disease that has killed millions of people worldwide and continues to be a public health threat in PNG.
After decreasing for a few decades, TB cases are again on the rise.
In some communities such as Karkar Island and Daru, TB rates have remained consistently high.
The rising trend in TB cases has been linked to a decrease in public health investment by successive governments.
Other factors include the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
An important complication is the emergence of TB-resistant strains.
These recent trends represent a serious threat to communities already saddled with poor health, poverty and other social problems and could also become an additional burden to the nation’s healthcare system.
Despite being both preventable and curable, TB remains one of the most serious health issue that PNG faces today.
According to the World Health Organisation, there has been a steady increase in TB patients since 2009 and in 2011 and close to 1,000 patients are being treated.
The disease represents a major health crisis, a heavy drain on public resources and an urgent challenge, especially since drug resistant strains become increasingly prevalent.
TB is an archetypal disease of poverty.
It has been eradicated in the developed world but remains a real threat particularly amongst those suffering from malnutrition or HIV/AIDS and in areas where the public has limited access to healthcare.
Eradicating TB in PNG will therefore require concerted, multi-pronged efforts.
TB interventions and discussions have typically focused on issues such as healthcare, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS, but there is also the issue of overcrowded settlements caused by urban drift.
Poor access to clean water is the biggest catalyst to its steady increase.
Poor living conditions such as crowded accommodation provide an ideal environment for the spread of airborne bacteria.
Looking beyond these facts, what are the root causes of the problem?
The political impetus is very important in underpinning the socioeconomic problems that give rise to the spread of TB.
In a socioeconomic sense, the imperative to address TB in the government sector is very low and is hindered by public service inertia.
It is time the government shiftsits focus on healthcare reform.
Too much attention is given on HIV/AIDS.
Given the lifestyle, culture and way of life in PNG, TB is is poised to become an epidemic covering the whole nation.
Alois Yoba Bai