Tue, 09 May 2000

High number of TB deaths 'preventable'

JAKARTA (JP): Health officials have expressed concern at the high number of deaths due to tuberculosis, as most of the 175,000 people who die from the disease in Indonesia each year need not do.

World Health Organization (WHO) senior health planner for Indonesia Mark Brooks lamented that so many sufferers die each year given that "with only Rp 120,000 a person can be cured from TB (tuberculosis)."

"But the problem is TB patients will often stop taking medication once they feel better," Brooks said, adding that it was essential for patients to maintain their discipline in consuming the medication for the whole period of the treatment.

Patients must continue with a strict medication regime for four to six months to be free from the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacilli which causes the disease, he said during a meeting here with health ministry officials, vice governors and legislators.

Health minister Achmad Sujudi also warned that stopping medication before the end of its course was dangerous as it built up the bacteria's resistance.

"Medication costs for patients once the bacteria becomes resistant will be 10 to 20 times more expensive than the initial treatment," Sujudi warned.

He said the ministry had taken steps to ensure that patients stick to their medicine by establishing a national committee that recruits observers to make sure patients take their medicine.

The committee was formed by former minister of health Farid A. Moeloek on March 24, 1999. It uses directly observed therapy (DOTS) or short course.

TB kills 8,000 people every day worldwide. Indonesia is third in the world after China and India in numbers of TB deaths.

Some 580,000 new people are infected with TB every year in the country.

Sujudi said many people, especially the poor, often misdiagnose TB with other health disorders, such as anemia.

"A person with TB who is not treated can infect 10 to 15 other people," Sujudi said.

The disease can spread through coughs and sneezes.

However, Sujudi remained confident that with the various measures being taken the government can achieve its target of treating 70 percent of all TB patients in the country by 2005. (08)