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Unite to end TB- Media Seminar on World TB Day

Mrs. Nirupa Pallewatte , the Acting Director of the National Programme for Tuberculosis sits on the right of  Dr Palitha Mahipala, Consultant Medical Administrator of the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine

There were around 12,000 Tuberculosis (TB) patients recorded each year in Sri Lanka, while there could be another 3,000 patients who were undetected, a top Government health Official said on March 24, which happened to be the World TB Day.


This year the day was marked with a media seminar under the theme Unite to end TB, organised by the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine.
 “There are around 4 million unidentified TB patients worldwide,” said Mrs. Nirupa Pallewatte, the Acting Director of the National Programme for Tuberculosis Control and Chest Disease, referring to the statistics released by the World Health Organisation. 


Dr. Palitha Mahipala elaborating on this fact further said that 1.5 million people died due to TB in 2014, while 9.6 million fell ill with TB.
“There’s a stigma attached to TB patients. We have heard stories, where children with TB were cornered in classrooms, and some students were expelled. This is why awareness is essential. After two weeks of treatment TB is no longer communicable. You can work, study or travel. After six months of continuous treatment the disease is completely cured. 


“If there’s such a stigma associated with TB patients, they hesitate to receive treatment and ultimately the disease spreads,” Dr. Sarath Amunuugama, Deputy Director General of Health Services said. 
“We should not only inform the public of what TB is and its causes and effects, but we should also focus on the consequences of TB, such as societal backlash”.


Dr. Priyadarshani Samarasingha, Consultant Community Physician, expanded on the epidemiology of TB.
“The largest number of cases is found in South East Asia, which accounts for 58 percent of TB cases.  In Asia, the incidence of TB is 4 million and there are 460,000 deaths annually. But, only 2.6 million cases in Asia have been reported. This is because of the stigma on TB, which is slowly killing society. We also want to introduce a system where those who have prolonged cough could get tested for TB,” Dr. Samarasingha said.


Dr. Mahipala also noted that the malnourished, those with reduced immunity, alcohol consumers, diabetic and HIV patients had a high risk of contracting the disease. 
“Coughing that continues beyond two weeks, mild fever, perspiration in the night, blood mixed phlegm are symptoms of lung TB. If anyone shows one or more of these symptoms he/she should be directed to a doctor.” 


“There are 26 chest clinics; one is found in every district. We used to have only seven specialists for TB, but now we have 30 working in these clinics.” 
He also said that Rs. 500 million was spent annually to eradicate TB in Sri Lanka. Referring to the DOT (Direct, Observe, Treatment) where patients had to take pills in front of an authorised person, he said that it wasn’t a punishment but an attempt at preventing multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. He also stated that it was the social responsibility of each individual to contribute towards eradicating TB in the country. 


“Right to health implies both the right to access and the right to be healthy. Right to access is ensured by the Ministry of Health. But protecting the right to be healthy is both an individual as well as a social commitment. If someone refrains from receiving treatment, it violates the rights of another.” 
Dr. Geethal Perera, spoke on diagnosis and management of TB. 
“TB is a bacterial infection which progresses slowly. Some of the early symptoms are common cold, listlessness, fatigue, fever and cough. In the latter stages symptoms such as night sweats, cough with blood, chest pain and weight loss can be observed. The infection can be transmitted through coughing, talking, breathing and sneezing.  


“However, after two weeks of medication TB becomes non-infectious. There is an array of ways to identify TB, the sputum smear examination, X-ray, TB culture, etc.
“The most frequently used medicine worldwide for TB is Rifampicin and TB is prevented through BCG vaccination. 


In Sri Lanka all the facilities to cure and prevent TB are available free of charge. However, the public does not use all these facilities to their full potential.  This is mainly because of the stigma towards TB.”


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