PAKISTAN’S fight against tuberculosis has been a grim one. The country reports over 50,000 new cases each year; of particular concern are the 15,000 cases of patients who develop multidrug-resistant TB. There is much WHO focus on TB in Pakistan, and, with World Tuberculosis Day being observed today, there will surely be some discussion on the national strategic plan 2017-2020 for TB control. The conclusion will, unfortunately, be that millions of Pakistanis remain exposed to it. Thousands die every year after contracting the disease. Pakistan has taken steps to curb its spread but clearly lacks some fundamental tools in its battle. WHO has identified “delays in diagnosis, unsupervised, inappropriate and inadequate drug regimens, poor follow-up and lack of a social support programme for high-risk populations”. One severe consequence is that Pakistan is ranked fourth among countries with the highest incidence of MDR-TB. This is a worrisome picture, worsened by the fact that, although occasionally there are pledges to eradicate the disease, the subject has generally failed to cause national-level concern.
For too many people, TB routinely represents a peril of the past, one that in the modern age can be controlled with medication. Meanwhile, the official effort either hasn’t been publicised properly or is overwhelmed by other urgent concerns in this vastly populated land. It will be criminal though if the battle to eradicate TB is given any less attention than it deserves — and it requires as much notice, time and energy as would any challenge of gigantic proportions. The eradication of TB, as well as other communicable illnesses — by 2030 — is part of the Sustainable Development Goals. But it seems that, going by the current status of the disease in Pakistan, the battle may extend well beyond that date, especially with the growing prevalence of MDR-TB that cannot be cured with standard first-line medication. It is time to create greater public awareness of how easily the TB germ can spread and to focus on early detection and effective therapy.
Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2019