IF Pakistan is to achieve the target of effectively ending the tuberculosis epidemic in the country by 2035, as stated by the National TB Control Programme in its mission statement, sustained efforts are required to eliminate this communicable disease. And as we mark World TB Day today, it is a good opportunity to reaffirm the national commitment to ensuring a TB-free Pakistan. Despite advances in the field of public health, TB remains a matter of concern globally. According to the WHO, in 2021 around 10.6m people fell ill with the disease, while the number of TB-related deaths in the same year was 1.6m. The stark fact is that the highest incidence of the disease is in the Global South, with over 80pc of cases and deaths reported from low- and middle-income countries. Many of these cases are reported from South Asian states, including Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. In fact, Pakistan has the fifth highest burden of disease in the world. As per the National TB Control Programme’s statistics, 573,000 people fell ill with TB in 2020, while 46,000 died during the same year. The rise of multidrug-resistant TB presents an additional challenge where battling the disease is concerned.
Certainly, the best way to eradicate TB is early diagnosis and full treatment. As the WHO notes, amongst the reasons for the rise in multidrug-resistant TB is “delays in diagnosis, unsupervised, inappropriate and inadequate drug regimens [and] poor follow-up”. The UN’s health body adds that drug resistance can emerge because of the poor quality of medicines, as well as the fact that patients stop treatment prematurely. Health experts need to urgently address these gaps in order to prevent the spread of more virulent strains of TB. In particular, the quality of drugs needs to be assured, while patients and their families should be counselled to complete treatment. With commitment and sustained focus, Pakistan can address this public health crisis and come closer to eradicating TB.
Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2023
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