World Tuberculosis Day reminds us all of the important work under way to eradicate this highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease, but also that more needs to be done to save lives across the Pacific and globally.
“We’ve achieved significant progress in the detection and treatment of tuberculosis cases in the Pacific region in recent years, but a renewed effort is essential to ‘reach, treat and cure everyone’,” according to a Tuberculosis Epidemiologist at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Jojo Merilles.
While an average of 26,000 tuberculosis (TB) cases have been reported in Pacific Island countries and territories each year over the past three years, including new and relapsed cases, more are now being detected and put under treatment than was the case 10 years ago.
Records kept by the World Health Organization (WHO) show that in 2003, a total of 15,570 cases were reported and treated in the Pacific region, although this may not have reflected the full extent of the disease.
Today there’s a mixed picture of notification rates for TB across the region.
“We’re working with a range of technical and funding partners to support our Pacific member countries and territories in their efforts to accelerate the diagnosis and treatment of people with TB infection,” Mr Merilles said.
For example, with funding support from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), a high technology GeneXpert automated diagnostic test has recently been introduced in Kiribati, which has the highest registration rates of TB in the region (386 TB cases per 100,000 people were registered in Kiribati in 2013).
The Manager of Kiribati’s National TB Programme, Dr Alfred Tonganibeia, said: “Since 5 February 2015, the National Tuberculosis Programme in Kiribati has been able to perform TB diagnosis at a cheaper cost and send laboratory feedback to clinicians within two hours.”
Despite progress, many TB cases remain unidentified and untreated in countries where the burden of the disease is very high (Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu).
At the regional level, a mid-term TB Strategic Plan 2015-2019 for Pacific island countries and territories has been developed to guide TB control work.
The strategy includes ambitious goals, which are achievable if those infected with TB are identified and treated quickly.
“SPC will continue to stand by its Pacific members and partners to move towards the overall goal of ending the global TB epidemic by 2035,” Mr Merilles said.
SPC supports Pacific national TB programmes, in close collaboration with WHO, the International Union Against TB and Lung Disease, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DFAT, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and several reference laboratories, the Pasteur Institute in New Caledonia, the Louis Malardé Institute in French Polynesia, the Queensland Mycobacterium Reference Laboratory, Lab Plus in Auckland, Diagnostic Laboratory Services in Honolulu, and the South Australian Laboratory.
World Tuberculosis Day is marked each year on 24 March. This year’s global theme is “Reach the 3 Million: Reach, Treat, Cure Everyone”.