The organisers of the World Tuberculosis Day in Thimphu hit the right note when one of the recovered patients talked about his experience with what is perceived as a killer disease, tuberculosis.
The message was loud and clear. Tuberculosis or TB is curable if detected on time and timely quality care and cure are ensured. It may be the worlds’ deadliest infectious killer, but it is preventable and curable. The message of the personal story could change how Bhutanese perceive TB.
If not, it should be spread. TB patients should not be stigmatized. They need help.
Tuberculosis still remains a public health priority. A lot has changed since the first TB hospital was established in the country, in Samtse in 1976. Despite the effort and a separate TB control programme, the disease is still a burden. From the disease behaviour, it is robbing the country and the society of people in the most productive age group.
Albeit the progress made in TB case detection and high treatment success rate, TB remains a challenge. The number of multi-drug resistance is on the rise. As of 2018, there are 981 TB cases of which 63 are MDR-TB patients. This is a reduction of only 762 cases from the 1,743 more than two decades ago, in 1995.
We have joined global and regional community initiatives and pledges to end the TB by 2030. Time is running out. We have just over a decade left to achieve the ambitious target. At the current rate, it will be an uphill task.
However, it should work in Bhutan. We have the essentials- basic health infrastructure even in the remotest corners, free anti-TB drugs, diagnostic facilities, DOTS and an army of health workers. Besides, we have dedicated programmes and improved diagnostic tool. Our smallness should also be an advantage.
The greatest hurdle in combating TB had been identified as ignorance and silence. This too was diagnosed a long time ago. Tobacco, alcohol drugs and other intoxicants cause TB. The weak and the ignorant are vulnerable.
Establishing facilities alone is not enough. There is no need for sophistication in combating TB if each one of us takes a small responsibility of reporting or encourage people to report. The symptoms are easily identifiable. We talk openly and lightly about TB, unlike HIV/AIDS. This should make it easier to help those with TB or with symptoms.
The health ministry has called for greater collaboration and collective effort. Helping identify or encouraging someone with a prolonged cough, whether at home, work, village or in the community could help us in achieving our aim.
We are much better when it comes to awareness, but concerted awareness in all sections of the society should be continued.