Paulina Quintao – The Acting General Director for Health Services at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Horacio Sarmento da Costa said socio-economic limitations represent the major problem to the health sector to reduce the incidence of Tuberculosis (TB) across the country.
He said TB continues to be a public health issue in the country because Timor-Leste has higher incidence and mortality rates compared to other countries in Southeast Asia.
He said another big challenge for the fight is that the TB bacteria is already drug-resistant making it more difficult to treat.
"Socio-economic factors are a major issue for us to reduce TB in Timor-Leste, but it is important for us to provide treatment for those who are diagnosed with TB to prevent drug-resistance," he said during the opening of the coordination meeting for the national research on drug-resistant TB at the MoH, in Kaikoli, Dili.
He said the research will be very important so there is accurate data about the incidence of drug-resistant TB in Timor-Leste and so he urged the contribution from the Directors of the Municipal Health and all health facilities across the country for the successful undertaking of the research.
He informed the research will be carried out starting in the month of September, with Manatuto and Ermera municipalities the first to be researched followed by all other municipalities.
On the other hand, Doctor Daniel Murphy said TB is now an endemic disease in Timor-Leste because in 1999 many people lived with people infected with TB bacteria in refugee camps so the bacteria is still endemic until now.
He said TB is now a major issue across the country, and the bacteria can affect human organs including the lungs, liver, skin, lips and other organs but TB can be cured if it is detected and treated early.
"Reducing poverty can also help combating this disease, and we need good management to reduce it so everyone can have jobs, and live in proper places rather than sleeping 5 or 6 together in a room. The bacteria is airborne so everyone in the room will be infected by morning," he said.
He added the early case detection program needs to be more effective to look for people with TB to be placed immediately in treatment because the TB bacteria is already registering high across the country.
Meanwhile, the Chief of the TB program at the Ministry of Health, Constancio Lopes said according to data estimations from the World Health Organization (WHO), between 60 to 100 drug-resistant patients should be being registered annually, but only 3 to 5 TB patients get registered.
He added the research will prove that either the estimation data is higher that it needs to be or that there needs to be more adequate efforts by the Ministry of Health to detect cases.
"The results of the research will serve as evidence for us to develop policies and strategic plans of intervention based on the research," he said.
He said according to data estimation from WHO, the mortality rate of TB in Timor-Leste is of 100 deaths annually by 100,000 people, but in Timor-Leste up to 1,000 people die annually of TB.
He informed that the research will cost $380,000 and will be carried out over six months with funds from the Global Fund.