TB deaths down 40% in Asia

NEW DELHI - Significantly fewer people are dying of tuberculosis in South and Southeast Asia, with a significant 40% reduction in the death rate from the disease since 1990, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported.

Vaccination is an effective TB prevention which is usually given to children. Bangkok Post file photo

The achievement is attributed to greater public awareness of TB, an increased number of cases being detected, and more people having access to adequate treatment because of the sustained efforts by WHO member states in the organisation's South-East Asia Region.

As access to TB care has expanded substantially, the number of people with TB, or the TB prevalence rate, has also declined by a fourth in the region compared with 1990, the WHO said in its statement.

All 11 Member countries of the Region have adopted the WHO Stop TB Strategy. More than 88% known TB patients have been successfully treated. Five countries have had a bigger treatment success rate: Bangladesh (92%), Bhutan (90%), Democratic People's Republic of Korea (90%), Indonesia (90%), and Nepal (90%).

Good performance by countries in implementing DOTS (directly observed treatment, short-course), the cornerstone for ensuring  TB is successfully treated, has led to relatively low levels of multidrug resistant TB in newly detected cases.

Advances in diagnostics are also contributing to success in TB control. Six countries in this region - Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand - have introduced Xpert MTB/RIIF, a system that detects the disease, including TB that is resistant to the antibiotic rifampicin, rapidly, within 100 minutes. Rapid detection of TB enables health providers to ensure patients get treated quickly and appropriately, and prevents its spread.

However, absolute numbers are still high. There were an estimated 5 million TB patients in 2011 in the region, with 3.5 million new cases. Half a million people died of TB that year. There were also an estimated 90 000 cases of multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB in 2011. This is nearly a third of the estimated number of people with MDR-TB in the world. This is mainly due to the large and growing population in this region.

Substantial challenges remain as an estimated one third of TB cases not been reported, according to Samlee Plianbangchang, regional director of WHO South-East Asia Region.

Such cases are of concern as they unknowingly help spread the disease in the community and pose a serious risk of drug-resistant TB. This makes successful treatment difficult, and leads to high TB mortality.

Dr Plianbangchang said the successful elimination of TB, the underlying causes of the spread of the disease, such as poverty, the environment, and nutrition should be addressed. TB detection and treatment facilities must be made accessible and affordable to the hard-to-reach and unreached populations at the primary health centres."

WHO's South-East Asia Region comprises the following 11 member states: Bangladesh, Bhutan, DPR Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and East Timor.

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