The number of tuberculoses (TB) cases in the country has decreased to 1,145 in 2016 from 1,328 in the last five years. While 24 died in 201, the fatality was 44 in 2014. This came out during the world TB day, which was observed on March 24, 2017. This platform provides an opportunity to raise awareness about TB and the measures needed to tackle this disease.
However, the Global TB Report 2016 states that about 10.4 million TB cases were reported globally in 2015 of which about 45.6 percent of the burdens are in the South East Asia Region. Furthermore, of the 580,000 cases of Multi-Drug Resistance TB (MDR-TB) reported globally, about 34.5% were in the South East Asia Region.
Health Minister, Tandin Wangchuk said that TB- human immune virus (HIV) co-infection is also an emerging public health concern with millions of lives being lost to HIV associated TB on a global and regional scale, particularly in developing countries.
“ Bhutan is considered a low TB burden country in the Region; TB is still considered a priority public health problem mostly affecting productive age groups of 15 – 44 years,” he added despite having made progress in TB case detection and increase the treatment success rate. The Health Ministry is challenged with increasing number of MDR-TB cases, TB/HIV co-infection, suboptimal implementation of directly observed treatment (DOT), delays in diagnosis and treatment due country`s rugged terrain and inadequate infection control measures to combat TB.
He also stated that TB is a disease that is preventable, treatable and curable through DOT of 6 to 8 months. However, most TB patients will start feeling better after a few weeks of treatment. This, Lyonpo said made patients stop taking medicines in between resulting in incomplete treatment. “This sets a dangerous precedence as partial or incomplete treatment leads to development of resistance to TB medicines, resulting in MDR-TB,” he said.
He also mentioned that it is not the responsibility of the health sector alone but all family members of TB patients and the community at large should in ensuring that their patients take their medicines on time and complete full course of 6 to 8 months treatment for better outcome.
The Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) has joined the global and regional community in taking forward the agenda of TB through the Sustainable Development Goals and End-TB strategy. Health Minister said that through this, the Ministry of Health (MoH) commits to reach 90 percent of the people who need treatment and achieve a 90 percent treatment success rate.
He also said that MoH will put in effort to identify, refer and screen all presumptive TB cases at all levels and also conduct extensive contact tracing for all close contacts of infectious TB patients at the household and community levels, and institutional settings to improve case detection and strengthen quality of treatment, thus helping to reduce preventable deaths.
However, Lyonpo urged every individual to help themselves in identifying and at the same time to encourage people with cough for more than two weeks to visit the nearest health facility to be screened for TB so that the country leaves no one behind in terms of access to services, diagnosis and treatment.
“I would like to seek the support of all stakeholders to “Unite to End TB and Leave No One Behind” and commit to make Bhutan a TB free Nation collectively and in achieving the milestones and targets of TB Elimination Strategy by 2035,” he said.