Nima Wangdi

Going by the health ministry records, Tuberculosis (TB) cases in Bhutan are gradually declining. From 1,016 cases in 2019, the number of cases dropped to 919 in 2020 and 862 in 2021.

The data from the ministry of health showed that there were 946 drug susceptible TB cases and 70 Multi-Drug Resistant (MDR) cases in 2019. In 2020, there were 854 drug-susceptible TB cases and 65 MDR Cases. Last year saw 862 cases, which includes 55 MDR cases that mostly affected the productive age group in the ages of 15-24.

Records show 28 deaths in 2019, 19 in 2020 and 25 deaths last year.

According to the health ministry’s post on facebook, over the past few years, drug-resistant TB has been on the rise, leading to MDR-TB and extensively Drug-Resistant TB (XDR-TB) cases among TB patients, despite achieving a high overall treatment success rate. “Further, the development of drug resistance and the complexities around its treatment and management is a growing concern in the country, including an increasing case detection gap against the WHO estimates.” 

The ministry’s post said, considering the burden of TB and MDR-TB in the country, the ministry remains committed to investing and implementing a four-pronged strategy; intensifying case finding through rigorous contact tracing, continued targeted screening programs for the vulnerable and at-risk groups, enhancing diagnostic capacities & training of healthcare workers and building partnership with communities to scale up screening and testing.

“Every effort will be made to identify, screen and test all presumptive TB in the community. Therefore, people with cough for more than a week 2 weeks or more or cough for more than one week with persistent fever, night sweats, weight loss, and history of contact with a TB case are encouraged to visit the nearest flu clinic and health centre to get screened for TB,” ministry’s post stated.

“Once diagnosed, taking the full course of treatment without interruption is key to preventing treatment failure and development of resistance to TB medicines,” it stated.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every day, over 4,100 people die from TB and nearly 30,000 people fall ill globally with this preventable and curable disease. “TB remains a leading cause of death from a single infectious agent, even above HIV/AIDS.”

Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia region, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh’s message on the World TB day on March 24 stated that there is an urgent need for national, international and global stakeholders to invest at least USD 3Billion annually in the South-East Asia region to avert nearly 4.5 million new TB cases and prevent more than 1.5 million TB deaths by 2025.

“In the region, estimated TB and TB-HIV mortality increased nearly by 10 percent in 2020 to over 700,000 lives lost,” her message read the trend is likely to continue if no urgent action is taken.

According to health ministry officials, starting April 2020, the ministry initiated screening for TB along with Covid-19 and other respiratory illnesses at the walk-in flu clinics established across the country. “People with respiratory symptoms like cough and difficulty breathing are also screened for TB along with Covid-19.”

As of March 21, this year, 168 drug-sensitive TB and 11 MDR-TB cases were detected from the flu clinics according to the officials.