TB progress ‘still too slow’ – Ramsammy

-622 new cases diagnosed in 2008
Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy says he is concerned that efforts to combat tuberculosis (TB) are still too slow and that this “ancient scourge” can become a public health challenge globally.

In the light of this the ministry launched this year’s programme for World TB Day on Tuesday under the theme “I am stopping TB.” “This is a call to action…We are all at risk,” Ramsammy said in a press release. “By taking steps to stop TB, we are reducing our own risk,” he added.

The minister also recalled that five years ago he had cautioned that urgent steps needed to be taken to curb the virus. He said though Guyana has made progress he is “worried that progress is still too slow” since 622 new TB cases were diagnosed and persons put into treatment last year. “This means that the incidence rate was 83 cases every 100,000 Guyanese. In 2007, it was 93 cases per every 100,000,” Ramsammy said. The rate dropped even though there was expanded capacity for case detection.

At the same time, Ramsammy said he is encouraged by the fact that the co-infection of TB patients with HIV dropped to 20% in 2008. He said TB patients are treated with the latest available medication and patients across the country, except in regions eight and nine are treated through the ministry’s DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment Short-course) programme.  This means more than 70% of TB patients receive treatment and the ministry aims to provide “100% DOTS coverage by 2010.”

The minister also said the BCG vaccine which is given to all babies provides “some protection” against TB and as such parents are advised to ensure that their babies are inoculated.

The release said too MDR-TB (multi-drug resistant TB) is also a major concern here and worldwide. In order to combat this strain of the virus TB must be detected early and patients must take their medications according to prescription.

The minister said there are now TB detection centres in New Amsterdam (NA), Lin-den, Georgetown, Leonora, at the West Demerara Regional Hospital, at Enmore, Bartica, Charity, Suddie, Mabaruma, Port Kaituma, Moruca, Fort Wellington, Mahdia, Kato and Lethem. Case findings are also done at the Georgetown, NA, Timehri, Lusignan and Mazaruni prisons. Prisoners are treated through the ministry’s DOTS programme.

The global agenda is to eliminate TB by 2050 but this would mean greater commitment to fighting the infection now, the ministry said.

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