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Bangladesh: Tuberculosis Kills 70,000 Each Year
Low level of awareness an obstacle to successful treatment
Golam Mustofa Sarowar (Golam)     Print Article 
Published 2006-12-07 18:17 (KST)   
According to figures released by Bangladesh's government, more than half of the country's adult population carries the tuberculosis germ and an estimated 70,000 people die of the disease every year.

The facts were revealed by officials of the National Tuberculosis Control Program (NTP) in a roundtable in Dhaka on Wednesday.

"Under the present circumstances, without political will to combat tuberculosis, it will be very difficult for Bangladesh to attain its Millennium Development Goals of halving the incidence of tuberculosis by 2015," said Vikarunnesa Begum, program manager of the NTP, who read out the keynote paper at the roundtable.

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The program has, however, been successful in detecting and treating tuberculosis as the detection rate in 2004 rose to 61 percent of the total infected persons in the country, and the successful treatment of patients has risen to 89 percent of total detected cases.

According to the NTP, effective free treatment for tuberculosis is now available with every upazila (sub-district) health complex, medical college hospital and general hospital, with more than 10 leading non-governmental organizations working in partnership in the sector.

More than 300,000 people aged between 15 and 45 years are infected with tuberculosis in Bangladesh every year, and this high incidence makes Bangladesh the sixth most heavily tuberculosis-burdened country in the world in 2006.

But experts gave a warning that the incidence of the deadly drug-resistant tuberculosis is on the rise in Bangladesh. This strain is 100 times more expensive to treat than normal tuberculosis. An increase in the incidence of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is attributed to patients' tendencies to frequently discontinue their TB drugs.

The main obstacle to an even higher success rate in the treatment of tuberculosis was identified as the low level of awareness of the disease in villages.

"Reaching the lowest-income groups with the message that tuberculosis is no longer a fatal disease and that there is free treatment available for patients remains the biggest challenge to achieving higher prevention rates in Bangladesh," observed Q.M. Enayet Hossain, a director of the program.

"Although tuberculosis vaccinations cover about 95 percent of the country's population under five years of age, the prevalence of tuberculosis is high, but the intensity of the disease and its power to claim lives is greatly reduced," explained Asif Mujtaba Mahmud, an associate professor of respiratory medicine at National Institute of Diseases of Chest in Dhaka.

A massive program has been taken up by more than 20 non-governmental organizations in creating awareness of tuberculosis and the treatment available to patients, said Mahfuza Rifat, a TB program specialist at the Dhaka-based NGO BRAC.

"We need to scale up coordinated advocacy and social communications efforts with the help of the media and to encourage independent critiques and evaluations of the NTP policies and its services to move forward," said Rifat.

"Tuberculosis is a disease that mainly affects the poor of Bangladesh and thus treatment and prevention efforts must be led by the state as a public health priority that will be supported by non-state actors," said the New Age editor, Nurul Kabir, who was moderator at the roundtable.

"Journalists must come forward and ask the right questions to both the government and the NGOs to ensure that the goals that are set for the reduction and treatment targets of tuberculosis are met," said Afsan Chowdhury, who heads the advocacy unit at BRAC, which was a co-organizer of the roundtable.

Shafiqul Karim, the immediate-past president of Dhaka Reporters' Unity, pointed out the success of the oral dehydration salt saline advertisements and campaign as an example of how public health messages can reach the grassroots level.

Faruque Ahmed, director of the health program at BRAC, also emphasized the importance of a regular public review of the NTP, and said that the developments in the treatment of tuberculosis over the past decade should give health practitioners reasons to be hopeful.

The roundtable was chaired by Shahjahan Biswas, director general of the Directorate of Health Services.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Golam Mustofa Sarowar

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