“We are one of the 14 worst countries hit by this severely infectious disease which has spread across 200 countries,” Arth Nana, executive committee chairman of the Anti-TB Association of Thailand, said on Tuesday (Apr 9).
“We must improve the situation in order to do away with TB by 2021,” he insisted, referring to a goal put in place by the Disease Control Department.
In 2017, the department set its five-year plan to control the disease and reduce the number of patients.
But two years in, its goals remain far from complete. In Bangkok alone, new TB cases are on the rise, attributed to the influx of migrant workers, the most vulnerable group.
The number of foreign workers who were registered for treatment increased from 853 in 2017 to 1,123 last year.
It is expected there will be up to 13,000 new patients, including those seeking repeat treatment.
Dr Wongwat Lewlak, deputy chief of City Hall’s Health Department, blamed hectic and stressful lifestyles in the crowded city for making people neglect their health.
“The need to earn a living means many patients are too busy to remember those [appointments with doctors] or they decide to stop taking the drugs as soon as they start to feel better,” said Dr Wongwat.
The hospitals say they cannot provide sufficient treatment.
“State-run hospitals are overloaded with so much work that they cannot adopt a mentoring system, under which medical staff work as mentors to ensure patients strictly follow their instructions,” Dr Wongwat said.
TB treatment demands patients comply with such medical guidance and meet doctors regularly.
Patients need to take their medicine for six consecutive months. Failure to follow the practice will cause the disease to re-emerge and the patients will develop a resistance to the drugs.
The high number of drug-resistant cases was among the factors that put Thailand in the pool of 14 worst-hit countries for TB ranked by the World Health Organisation.
The WHO aims to reduce the number of TB patients to fewer than 10 in 100,000 by 2035.
In Thailand, according to the WHO’s estimate, the ratio was 156:100,000 last year. The number of new patients and those who are drug resistant is expected to be over 100,000 a year.
Tuberculosis is spread when a person with active TB disease in their lungs coughs or sneezes and someone else inhales the expelled droplets, which contain TB bacteria.
Although TB is spread in a similar way to a cold or the flu, it isn’t as contagious. One would have to spend prolonged periods (several hours) in close contact with an infected person to catch the infection.
In most healthy people, the immune system is able to destroy the bacteria that cause TB. But in some cases, the bacteria infect the body but don’t cause any symptoms (latent TB), or the infection begins to cause symptoms within weeks, months or even years (active TB). A quarter of the world’s population is infected with latent TB.
Common symptoms of the active infection include a lack of appetite and weight loss, a high temperature (fever), night sweats, extreme tiredness and a persistent cough that lasts more than three weeks and usually brings up phlegm.
In 2017, there were 1.3 million TB-related deaths worldwide.
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