Fewer people are dying of tuberculosis in South-East Asia

Tuberculosis in South-East Asia

Fewer people are dying of tuberculosis today in South-East Asia compared with 1990, according to the World Health Organization. During this time the death rate in the region has decreased by more than 40%. This achievement is due to greater public awareness of TB, more cases being detected, and more people accessing treatment because of government efforts, with support from WHO. On World TB Day, March 24, 2013, WHO renews calls to “Stop TB in South-East Asia – zero death to zero infection.”

Antony Soares is a farmer from Achabe, Ermera. Antony knows a lot about TB. His father had TB, his younger brother died from TB, and recently Antony was diagnosed with TB. Antony knew when his cough would not leave and he began to cough up blood that he needed to go the health facility and get tested for TB.

‘If it’s not detected early, TB is difficult to cure. My younger brother also had TB and he did not complete his treatment. When the disease came back a second time he died in Dili. If anyone has a symptom like him they should go to the health facility and get treatment,’ Antony advises.

Symptoms of TB include coughing for more than 3 weeks, coughing up blood, evening fever, chest pain and loss of appetite. Over one in three adults carry the bacteria that causes TB in their bodies but it is only when the immune system is low that the symptoms of TB present themselves. People’s immune systems are sometimes weakened because of their environment. If there is poor sanitation, over-crowding in their houses and poor nutrition immune systems can be lowered. Smokers also carry a higher risk of infection from TB as it most often affects the lungs.

Dr. Lungten Z. Wangchuk, Medical Officer, TB, WHO, in Timor-Leste explains that the key message for Timorese people on World TB Day is that TB is curable, people should know that there are facilities for diagnosis and treatment in Timor-Leste in all health facilities and treatment is free! You should access the care on time and take the drugs every day under direct observation (DOTS) until you have completed your treatment course, which will help you to cure the disease.

If a person with TB doesn’t access treatment it can spread to ten other community members within the space of one year. TB is spread through the air, when we cough, sneeze or talk the droplets carry the TB bacilli form one person to the other. WHO estimate one third of TB cases in South East Asia remain unreported. This means that many people unknowingly spread the disease in the community, which makes successful treatment difficult and leads to high TB mortality. It is a big responsibility to be a TB patient. You can help yourself and your community by getting tested and treated and preventing others from getting the disease.

Timor-Leste is considered a low TB burden country. However, numbers are still quite high. In 2011, there were 3,837 cases of TB. The good news is that the success rate for treatment of TB is very high. In Timor-Leste 91% of patients are successfully treated but people must access that treatment which is available in the country and free. If you live in a remote area, you can go the nearest health post and community volunteers can facilitate you to reach TB testing and treatment at the Community Health Centre.

Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region notes that to successfully eliminate TB, we must also pay attention to the underlying causes of the spread of the disease, such as poverty, the environment, and nutrition. ‘TB elimination cannot be achieved by the health sector alone. It requires coordinated efforts by other sectors, such as environment, infection control, water and sanitation. With adequate resources and dedicated efforts, it is possible to “Stop TB in South-East Asia – zero death to zero infection” in this generation.’

Listening to people like Antony Soares from Ermera is an important step in raising awareness among the community, increasing access to TB care, and further reducing TB cases and mortality in South East Asia.

Antony Soares
Antony Soares (40) Ermera visits the CHC each day to complete his TB treatment

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