By Sasha Pei-Silovo – EM TV Online
Tuberculosis prevalence in Papua New Guinea is the highest in the Pacific, and also among the highest world-wide.
Considerable challenges such as access to healthcare facilities and services, road networks and infrastructure, transportation, among others, continue to hinder efforts to contain the spread of TB and treat patients.
On Friday, January 30, Australia announced their continuous support for the fight against TB in Papua New Guinea. Their support is made through the supplying of four boats to transport medical supplies, health workers, patients, and other necessities, to and from the mainland of Papua New Guinea and outer islands in the Western Province.
Also last week, Health Minister, Michael Malabag, requested for the declaration of a national emergency, after talks with the TB taskforce team in Port Moresby.
The increased number of patients diagnosed with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis has promoted the minister to act as such; citing concerns of the detrimental effect the disease could have on the economy.
Last year, WHO Western Pacific Regional Director, Dr Shin Young-soo, made the call for the multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) problem in Daru, Western Province, to be given utmost priority by all levels of government and the communities. He made this statement after visiting the province.
“Drug shortages, drug supply security and access to health services in the Western Province are contributing to one of the worst tuberculosis (TB) epidemics in the world,” said Burnet’s Head of Modelling and Biostatistics, Associate Professor, Emma McBryde.
McBryde, with the support of AusAID, spent two weeks in the Western Province to assess the incidence of TB and multi-drug resistant TB (MDRTB) in the region. Read report here.
The boats are part of a range of programs set by local organisations in Australia, the Cairns Reef and Rainforest Research Centre and the Australian government; to support works to address multi-drug resistant TB.
Cairns Reef and Rainforest Research Centre managing director, Sheriden Morris told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat, that the program was aimed at building the capacity of locals to deal with TB. She said that 40 community rangers were selected through the program, by village elders, to undergo training.
“It’s to build resilience in those communities. We utilise the skills that are in the region, utilise the expertise in the region, to actually look at how we can improve things. Part of the problem we’ve had is that, a lot of the time, the aid and support that comes to these regions really lacks the local experience and local knowledge,” she said.
Multi-drug resistant TB (MDRTB) is an emerging problem in the Asia and Pacific regions and particularly in PNG – it occurs when diagnosed patients are only partially treated.
Standard TB treatment consists of four medications, if patients are given these pills separately and they don’t adhere to the treatment regime of taking them all together or if they take the drugs then stop after a month but return for further treatment – this often leads to drug resistance.
“As far as is known, MDRTB is just as transmissible as standard TB so even if you aren’t creating drug resistance through the drug taking – it can propagate through transmission,” McBryde said.
The Australian boats, that are actually fishing boats built to handle the conditions and choppy seas of the Torres Strait, are fuel efficient and designed to be self-rescuing, particularly effective for travelling to rough and remote areas.
Sheriden Morris said that it was difficult to see an area, so close to Australia struggle with TB.
She said on a recent visit this month, nurses at the Daru hospital went on strike because they said they could no longer cope with the TB levels.
“When the hospital can’t cope anymore, when the communities can’t cope, we need to be looking at ways to be building those communities back up so they can manage.”