Tuberculosis (TB) remains one of the biggest threats to public health in the World Health Organisation (WHO) - South-East Asia Region, causing one death a minute. Although the total number of people affected by the disease has steadily declined in the last decade, there are five million people living with TB in the region — a third of the global burden — and more than 3 million are affected every year.
On World Tuberculosis Day, falling on Thursday, WHO has emphasised the need for greater innovation for strategy, diagnostics and new drugs, and universal access to health services to successfully fight tuberculosis. With resistance to current drugs being a persistent threat, new and effective drugs for TB are urgently needed.
“There have been significant achievements in the past decade. However, globally we have a limited number of options to seriously tackle TB. Our best available strategy, and one that must be strengthened further if we are to have a chance of achieving our goals, is basic directly observed treatment, short course (DOTS),” said Dr. Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia.
Expansion and strengthening of DOTS in the 11 member states of the region has resulted in over two million people with TB being successfully treated every year. As a result, the proportion of the region's population becoming affected with TB has been declining each year and is now a quarter less than the 1990 levels, while the number of deaths has reduced by 44 per cent.
Good performance of DOTS in the region has lowered multi-drug resistance (MDR-TB) among newly detected cases of TB. However, given the large number of TB cases in the Region, this translates to 1,30,000 people MDR-TB, accounting for a third of all the world's MDR-TB cases. Costs of treating MDR-TB are high — nearly 100 times a normal case of TB, requiring high resource inputs and mobilisation by the governments, which would mean approximately $ 400 million each year for emerging cases in the Region.
Healthcare services in TB have been expanded to include providers outside the purview of the Ministry of Health, such as railways, military and prison health services and private providers. Approximately 30,000 such institutions across the region, such as medical colleges, private practitioners, large public and private hospitals, corporate institutions, non-governmental organisations, faith-based organisations and prisons are now working with national TB programmes. In addition, an increasing number of private laboratories have been included in national diagnostic networks.
Business alliances in the Region like the Thailand Business Coalition, the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Associations and the India Business Alliance to Stop TB are non-health private sector players proving healthcare service for TB in the workplaces. All of these initiatives have contributed to the improved detection and treatment of the disease in the region.