Published On: Wed, Mar 25th, 2015

Tuberculosis still a major health priority for the Caribbean

Tuberculosis-740The Caribbean Tuesday joined the international community in observing World Tuberculosis (TB) day with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) indicating that the disease remains a major health priority for the region.

“TB remains a public health priority for the Caribbean region with more than 30,000 new cases occurring every year,” said CARPHA executive director Dr. C. James Hospedales.

Figures released here show that TB remains a major global health problem, responsible for illness among nine million new people each year, and deaths of 1.5 million.

Worldwide, TB ranks as the second leading cause of death from an infectious disease, after the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The Day is being observed under the theme “Find, Treat, Cure TB”. The major symptoms of TB are persistent cough, fatigue, fever, night sweats, and weight loss.

CARPHA said that progress towards TB control in the Caribbean has been slow, despite recognition that emergence and/or increasing trends for the disease pose a threat to public health.

“The Caribbean, as a region, still has to increase its efforts in order to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2015 target to reduce by 50% the burden of TB (disease prevalence and deaths) relative to the 1990 levels,” CARPHA noted.

It said several Caribbean countries still have high TB incidence rates, and HIV/AIDS, shortage of laboratory capacity, limited treatment success and programme funding gaps, are among the factors favouring TB continuing to pose a significant health threat in the Region.

CARPHA, which serves as the regional reference and referral laboratory for the diagnosis of TB and drug resistant TB said it provides assistance to TB programmes in its member states, investigates TB outbreaks, and contributes to the regional TB surveillance through yearly reporting to the World Health Organization (WHO).

But Dr. Hospedales said that in order to make further progress towards the new MDG goals “TB control must be mainstreamed into the health agenda as with HIV, and include broader strategic planning approaches and financial frameworks aimed at poverty reduction.

“It is essential that Caribbean countries ensure high quality TB services through implementing the components of the Stop TB Strategy and that target prevention and control activities fit their respective epidemiological situation,” he added.

CARPHA said that efforts should be strengthened to ensure good quality TB programmes that enable prompt identification and adequate management of people with TB, as well as necessary infection control measures.

This includes strengthening of HIV counseling and testing among people with TB, making Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) available for all people with TB living with HIV, and better data to assess the performance of TB/HIV collaborative activities including prevention of TB among people living with HIV in the population.

Dr. Hospedales said that it is the region’s “collective responsibility” and that “efforts to combat TB must be accelerated if the post-2015 targets are to be met.

“Political commitment, as well as communication, cooperation and collaboration with healthcare workers at all levels of the health sector and the population at large, are essential for the achievement of TB programme goals,” he added.

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