WASHINGTON: Pakistan received a rare pat on the back in the US capital on Thursday night when it was declared the most successful country in fighting multi-drug resistance tuberculosis (MDR-TB).

Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani, who received the TB Champion Award 2016 on behalf of the country at a ceremony at the US Institute of Peace, pointed out that Pakistan had one of the highest treatment success rates in the world.

“Under the National TB Control Programme more than 3 million TB cases have been diagnosed & treated free of cost in 1,300 public sector TB care facilities during 2001-2015,” he said.

Dr Lucica Ditiu of the Stop TB Partnership reminded participants that it cost only $40 to treat a TB patient and yet tuberculosis remained the world’s largest epidemic.

President of World Bank Dr Jim Yong Kim underlined the link between poverty and TB, while Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa’s health minister whose country also received an award for combating TB, noted that more than 70 per cent TB patients were poor.

Dr Paul Farmer, a co-founder of Partners in Health group and another award winner, emphasised the need for developing a strategy that fights both poverty and the disease.

Dr Kim, who recently visited Pakistan, noted that an acute energy shortage was forcing the country to use coal to produce electricity, which was a health hazard.

“Pakistani officials told me that if we bring down the cost of solar energy to less than that of coal, they will go for solar,” he said, while explaining how economic constraints force countries to make bad choices.

Dr Kim said that sometimes patients were not treated because their illness was considered a low economic priority. “But I am yet to meet a patient who says, please do not treat me because I am a low priority patient,” said the WB chief, who is also a physician.

Ambassador Jilani told the audience that in 2001, Pakistan declared tuberculosis a national health emergency.

“It is a matter of satisfaction that our immunisation programme … is being strengthened to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats,” he said. “Pakistan also has a road map in place with the support of the US Centre for Disease Control.”

Ikram Junaidi in Islamabad adds: Dr Ejaz Qadeer, the national manager for the TB Control Programme, told Dawn that Pakistan had made good achievements in combating tuberculosis over the past few years.

According to a ‘disease prevalence survey’ held in 2011-12, every year around 420,000 people are infected with TB. Dr Qadeer said 300,000 cases of TB were detected in 2014 and the number had reached 315,000 in 2015. “We are providing free of cost treatment of the disease, but the number of its patients are increasing because TB is often not detected on early stage and its patients start transferring the virus to other people.”

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), there should be 70 per cent detection rate. He said Pakistan had achieved that target in 2015 and the country was among nations having highest MDR-TB success rate. Dr Qadeer said a strategy had been adopted through which the detection rate would be taken to 80 per cent by 2020.

“There are 1,500 microscopic detection laboratories and 5,000 treatment centres for TB patients in the country. There are 30 hospitals for the treatment of MDR-TB patients.”

He said efforts were being made for the availability of improved diagnostic machines and for the purpose federal and provincial government would allocate funds.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2016

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