Wed, 29 Mar 2000

Indonesia third in tuberculosis cases in the world

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesia is third in the world in number of tuberculosis patients with over 583,000 recorded infections last year, of which 140,000 died.

"From the contagious diseases group, tuberculosis is the primary cause of death in the country," Minister of Health Achmad Sujudi told reporters here on Tuesday.

"Around 400 people die of the disease every day," he added.

The minister said East Nusa Tenggara is the province most prone to tuberculosis.

Sujudi could not give an estimate of the total number of people infected with the disease saying that it was a colossal task to record it for the whole country.

He emphasized that there had been a marked increase in tuberculosis since 1997 in conjunction with the spread of the Human Immune-deficiency Virus (HIV).

Sujudi explained that HIV stimulates the onset of the tuberculosis germ which is already in the human body.

"Almost one-third of all people have the potential to be infected," Sujudi said adding that between 10 to 15 people are prone to be infected by each individual tuberculosis sufferer.

He said data from last year's patients indicate that around 70 percent of those infected were working age. Even those who recovered needed three or four months before they could resume working.

According to Sujudi, translated into monetary figures, lost productivity due to tuberculosis has cost the country 20 to 30 percent of annual household income.

"Realizing the magnitude of the problem, the government is committed to allocating a substantial amount of the state budget to fight the disease and join an international network to stop tuberculosis," he added.

Chief of the National Development Planning Agency, Djunaidi Hadisumarto, said 16.9 billion (US$2.4 million) has been earmarked in the 2000 budget for free tuberculosis medication.

"The fund was allocated because almost 60 percent of people with tuberculosis are poor people," Djunaidi said, adding that the government also planned to provide free tuberculosis testing and training for medical staff to treat the disease.

Sujudi also noted that his office will assist the implementation of the Direct Observation Treatment Short Course (DOTS) strategy for people with tuberculosis.

The strategy employs a strict regimen of medication for an uninterrupted six-month period.

DOTS has proved an effective cure with a success rate of 85 percent.

"To provide close observation, we will increase the number of community health centers (Puskesmas) that can treat the disease. So far, only 51 percent of the 7,500 Puskesmas across the country can provide such a service," Sujudi said.

Indonesia actually adopted the strategy in 1995 but so far only 30 percent of tuberculosis patients are being treated with it.

The government has set a target of treating 70 percent of all tuberculosis patients by the year 2005.

"Our main problem is to find the people with the disease, that's why people should know that we are giving free medication for treatment," Sujudi said. (dja)