The National,Thursday March 31st, 2016
THE very real threat of tuberculosis (TB) spreading to others is still seriously undermined by a large sector of the community while health authorities in the country are battling the deadly disease.
TB is considered a big killer in the country yet what is becoming apparent in the fight against the disease is that information on how it is spread and how it can be prevented is not reaching people or if it is, it is not being taken seriously enough.
This is clearly evident by the continued defiance by some residents of the National Capital District of the city authority’s anti-betel nut regulations. NCD is listed as one of the TB hotspots.
Apart from keeping the city clean, another reason for the betel nut ban, we recall, was to prevent the spread of disease because betel nut has been associated with the disgusting habit of public spitting which is a proven mode of transmission.
Spitting is considered rude and a social taboo in many parts of the world including Papua New Guinea.
But there is a more serious reason why this bad habit should be discouraged especially in large gatherings. Spitting is one of the most common ways in which the TB bacteria are spread, apart from coughing, singing, laughing or sneezing.
Spitting upon another person, especially onto the face, is a universal sign of anger, hatred, disrespect or contempt.
It can represent an act of intentional contamination. Despite whatever excuse your average buai spitting driver puts forward, this is clearly what they demonstrate – intentional contamination or defacing of public streets.
So far health authorities have identified the Western province, especially the Daru Island, National Capital District and Morobe has TB hotspots.
And it seems very likely that without outside intervention, especially from the Australian government and the involvement of disease specialists from non-governmental organisations, the Burnet Institute – a leading Australian infectious diseases agency – and World Vision, the PNG Government would continue to be faced with an uphill battle against TB.
This is especially so in the case of multi-drug resistant TB on Daru Island.
But thankfully, the Australian government has and will continue to support our fight against the disease on Daru and elsewhere in the country.
Representatives from the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby have reiterated Australia’s commitment in partnership with Papua New Guinea in the fight to end TB in the country during the World TB Day last Thursday.
PNG has the highest rate of TB infection in the Pacific and about 25,000 people are diagnosed with the disease every year.
According to the national Department of Health, more than 28,000 cases of TB were reported in 2014 with the majority being focused in the so-called ‘hotspots’ of NCD, Morobe, Gulf and Western.
It was also noted that the rise of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) has made the situation more challenging.
Multi-drug resistant TB requires longer, more complex and exponentially more expensive treatments for patients.
An article from the Port Moresby General Hospital states that according to World Health Organisation about one-third of the world’s population has latent TB, which means people have been infected by TB bacteria but are not (yet) ill with the disease and cannot transmit the disease.
Some people are more likely than others to develop active TB disease such as people with HIV, malnutrition or diabetes, or people who use tobacco products.
The hospital says in most cases, TB is treatable and curable; however, people with TB can die if they do not get treatment or mismanage treatment.
The fight against TB does not only mean expensive treatment but at the very basic level means preventing it from spreading.
And this means for people to adopt very basic principles of hygiene and social etiquette such as refraining from public spitting.
It is sickening to see that people continue to disregard the basic things they can do as individuals to contain the spread of TB while others work hard to treat the sick or prevent the spread of the disease.
Fighting TB involves not only those in the health sector; it is something that all should be conscious of
and do their bit to contribute to the national effort in stopping the spread of the disease.