World Tuberculosis Day: 68,000 people die of TB every year in Pakistan: moot told

KARACHI: About 68,000 people in Pakistan still die of tuberculosis TB every year just because they do not take the correct drugs or complete the prescribed 6month treatment. If we do not eliminate TB in our lifetime, the disease will become more resistant to drugs and harder to treat, warned health experts at a public awareness session on World TB Day at Aga Khan University.

World Health Organization commemorates World TB Day on March 24 each year. This year’s theme is ‘Stop TB in my lifetime’ which aims for a world free of TB and reminds us that everyone has a part to play. Pakistan is sixth amongst the countries with the highest burden of TB in the world. There are more than half a million TB cases in the country at any one time, and approximately more than 250,000 new cases occur every year.

“Every step we take, should be a step towards TB elimination,” said Dr Ali Bin Sarwar Zubairi, Head, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, AKU “and we need to devote most of our resources to put an end to this epidemic.” Resources do not mean drugs alone and a key factor in treating TB is the quality of communication between patients and health professionals at the start of the therapy. Dr Javaid Ahmed Khan, Professor, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, AKU, advised the physicians that while dealing with TB, it is vital to explain to the patient the nature of the disease, the duration of treatment and its possible side effects.

“Poor treatment by private sector is resulting in increasing number of multidrug resistant MDR, and extensively drug resistant XDR cases. XDR is a form of MDR TB that responds to even fewer available medicines, including the most effective second line anti-TB drugs,” he said.

“The most cost-effective way of diagnosing TB is through the simple examination of a patient’s sputum for at least two days,” said Dr Kauser Jabeen, Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology and Microbiology, AKU. “However, many physicians in Pakistan resort to costly serological tests which are still of debatable value,” she commented.

Speaking about TB management, Professor Dr Nadeem Rizvi, Head, Department of Chest Medicine, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre stated, “Today, every step we take should be a step towards TB elimination, and the best way to start is to ensure that all TB patients in the community follow the DOTS programme suggested by WHO and complete the minimum six-month course of anti-TB drugs.”

Dr Afia Zafar, Professor, Department of Pathology and Microbiology, AKU talked about various preventive measures including face masks for both patients and healthcare providers for at least two weeks from the start of treatment.

Dr Zafar said that the important infection control measures are to detect TB disease promptly, isolate those who have or are suspected of having TB disease airborne precautions which include good air circulation in patient’s room as well as use of mask during interaction with others, and treat people who have or are suspected of having TB disease.

“TB mainly spreads in the community therefore government should initiate a TB infection control programme for congregated places, like, hostels, homeless shelters, educational institutions, jails and religious places,” she added.

Dr Nisar Rao, Associate Professor, Dow University of Health Sciences, spoke on how to deal with the side effects of the anti-TB treatment drugs. “It is very important to follow the doctor’s advice and not to change or stop taking their medication,” he advised.