Tuberculosis (TB) continues to be a major public health problem in the country with the disease affecting close to 1,000 Bhutanese every year. Globally, it kills more than 4,100 people every day and makes close to 28,000 sick.
As per the World Health Organisation (WHO) the estimated incidence of TB cases in Bhutan in 2019 was 1,300 cases. Only 1,016 cases were reported to the national TB control programme.
Although there has been a slight decrease in the incidence of TB in the last decade, multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB has increased over the years, which is more worrying.
Another problem is not everyone in the country with TB is detected today, leaving the rest of the population more vulnerable to contracting the disease. It is a highly contagious bacterial infection that can quickly spread if not caught, isolated, and treated early. If detected early, Bhutan has a high treatment success rate of more than 90 percent.
The DOTS (treatment) program saw 100 percent coverage within three years of its launch in 1993. We have joined global and regional community initiatives and pledges to end TB by 2030. Time is running out. We have only about eight years left to achieve the ambitious target. At the current rate, it will be an uphill task.
While progress is being made, it is not good enough for a small population like Bhutan to have a detection rate of 1.22 percent against the global rate of 3.5 to 5.5 percent. As a small population, we can do better and we have to do better.
WHO estimates that the South-East Asia Region needs to invest at least USD 3 billion annually to avert nearly 4.5 million new TB cases and prevent more than 1.5 million TB deaths in the region by 2025.
With resource constraints, mainly funding, investing in advocacy and prevention strategies in the conventional way can be challenging. It’s time we improvise. We can leverage the popularity of social media to reach out messages to the public effectively at barely less than half the previous costs.
During a recent meeting with the media, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that the advocacy and sensitisation on Covid-19 had helped in curbing the spread of the pandemic effectively. If we can do even half the advocacy done for Covid-19 on TB Bhutan could easily address the TB problem.
It’s time to make TB famous. And there is no better time and opportunity than on World TB Day.