Frontline of global TB fight is on Australia’s doorstep

Médecins Sans Frontières’ is scaling up its global efforts to help end the global Tuberculosis (TB) scourge by opening a new program in Papua New Guinea (PNG), will be fully operational in Port Moresby by May, the organisation ahead of World TB Day.

TB still kills 1.5 million people around the world and its drug-resistant form continues to claim more lives each year.

“Our program in PNG is in partnership with the PNG National Department of Health (NDOH) and National TB Programme to both diagnose the scope and nature of the TB burden in PNG, as well as develop best practice methods to treat the disease,” said Dr Isaac Chikwanha, Médecins Sans Frontières Deputy Program Manager for PNG.

Médecins Sans Frontières started its TB project in Kerema, the capital of Gulf province, in May 2014. The project began with improvements to the Kerema General Hospital TB department and laboratory facilities, while also implementing a decentralised treatment and follow up plan which aims to increase the numbers of patients who can access diagnosis and treatment, and continue that treatment until cured.

The government of -PNG, in response to the large increase of drug-resistant TB cases, established an emergency task force in August 2014.

“In March 2015, MSF and NDOH started supporting the TB clinic in Gerehu Hospital in the National Capital District (NCD, including Port Moresby), and this project will be fully operational in May. The project will pilot decentralised activities to more effectively reach patients suffering with TB including drug resistant TB,” said Eric Pujo, Program Manager for PNG.

There is a high burden of TB in the NCD with 6,000 cases reported annually. This is one of the highest recorded incidences worldwide and represents 25% of the total TB burden in the country, including at least 138 multi-drug resistant cases. Despite these high numbers detection capacities remain insufficient, with long delays in receiving test results and some patients lost to follow-up even before they start treatment.

The drugs and treatment regimes used to treat TB, in particular Multi Drug Resistant TB (MDR-TB), are currently inadequate, with long treatment periods of up to two years involving large amounts of daily tablets and seven months of injections which carry a high risk of serious side effects, including psychosis and irreversible deafness. The treatment is also expensive, about US $5000 per patient per year and it’s not easy for National TB Programs to scale up.

“There is an urgent need to develop new, safer and shorter drug regimens for TB which is why Médecins Sans Frontières is involved in research on the development of new treatment regimens using the latest approved TB drugs Delamanid and Bedaquiline. This work gives hope to the millions of suffers worldwide who need better treatments now, and also to Governments who need more cost effective treatment options to effectively control and eliminate TB in their countries,” said Dr Chikwanha.

Médecins Sans Frontières has been treating TB across the globe for 40 years. In 2013, MSF treated 32,000 patients with TB in 24 countries, including 1,950 patients with DR-TB.

Source: Médecins Sans Frontières
Image Source: A tuberculosis (TB) patient (Credit: Echwalu Photography 2011).

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Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities with another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years of experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities.

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