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Combating tuberculosis through the whole of gov’t approach

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Department of Health Central Luzon Center for Health Development Tuberculosis Prevention and Control Program Health Program Officer nurse Zyra Garcia explains SELF strategy to protect oneself against TB disease. (Reia G. Pabelonia/PIA 3)

Tuberculosis (TB) remains one of the world’s deadliest diseases, affecting millions of people each year.

The Department of Health (DOH) estimates that this year, about 737,000 new cases of TB will be recorded in the Philippines, with 81,543 new cases in Central Luzon.

With this, the health department is adopting a whole-of-government approach by partnering with local government units, government agencies, and the private sector to combat TB in the region through early screening, detection, and treatment; and intensifying advocacy and information dissemination about this infectious disease.

Among the best practices in combating TB is Lung Health Day,  which originated in the local government unit (LGU) of Subic. The LGU identifies one day per month for TB activities such as TB Screening or deployment of mobile vans in barangays for x-ray screening and TB diagnosis.

Another one is the One-Stop Shop strategy during TB Screening where it deploys an x-ray mobile van for sputum testing for diagnosis, and logistics for the start of treatment.

It also includes the deployment of sputum transport riders and functional zoning arrangements for TB laboratories where  presumptive TB patients or individuals with signs and symptoms or laboratory results suggestive of TB will have to go to the nearest health center. The health center will then facilitate transport of specimens for diagnosis if the Xpert MTB/Rif / TrueNAT testing is not available in the facility.

Tuberculosis Situation in Central Luzon

The Department of Health partners with local government units, national government agencies, and the private sector to combat tuberculosis in the region. (NTP Central Luzon)

DOH Central Luzon Center for Health Development (CLCHD) Tuberculosis Prevention and Control Program Health Program Officer nurse Zyra Garcia explained that tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

“Tuberculosis is a pulmonary infection usually affecting the lungs, but it can also spread to different parts of the body, such as the kidney, liver, skin, and brain or TB meningitis,” she said.

It spreads from person to person through infected air during close contact. The bacteria get into the air from the phlegm that comes from the lungs of the sick person.

Garcia shared that the accomplishment in finding new TB cases in the region is high.

“Our 2023 data is higher compared to pre-pandemic 2019. This means that we have found what we call missing TB cases that need to be found and treated so that we can completely prevent infection in our community”, she furthered.

In the region, Bulacan had the highest number of TB cases detected in 2023.

The Philippines is included in the list of countries affected by tuberculosis. It ranks fourth in the number of cases recorded for tuberculosis disease and ranks second in the TB incidence rate worldwide.

Protection strategy

The Department of Health provides various services such as free screening and free chest x-ray at Guimba Community Hospital in Nueva Ecija in line with the commemoration of World Tuberculosis Day. (NTP Central Luzon)

Garcia highlighted the SELF strategy to protect oneself against TB.

This includes early health-seeking behavior. “If you manifest one or more symptoms of TB or have been in close contact with an infected person, go to the nearest health center or any facility that provides TB services for consultation and get tested,” she said.

The second is examination. If there are no symptoms, get a chest x-ray with the whole family once a year.

Third is maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which ensures a healthy diet and proper exercise. Eating healthy and exercising, including getting enough sleep, are ways to boost immunity and help prevent tuberculosis.

Lastly, follow infection prevention and control. Make it a habit to wash your hands, cover your mouth and nose whenever you cough or sneeze, use a face mask when in health facilities, and start and finish treatment.

Raising awareness 

Stigma deprives people with tuberculosis of their right to quality care. With this, the agency reminded the public that TB is curable and not something to be ashamed of.

“When a TB patient starts treatment, within one or two weeks or a month, depending on his sputum test result, he is no longer contagious”, Garcia added.

She then reminded the public not to believe in myths that can stigmatize and discriminate against people with TB.

“Tuberculosis is not hereditary and cannot be acquired by fatigue, staying awake, or dry sweat on the back”, she explained.

Another misconception that DOH is trying to correct is that you can get infected by using the cutlery of a person with tuberculosis, or it can be transmitted through kissing or sexual intercourse, and only thin people can have TB.

Moreover, Garcia urged TB-infected persons to go to the nearest health center to start and finish their treatment.

For other information regarding anti-TB services, the public may contact numbers 0945-268-0584, 0919-330-2200 or 0919-330-2205. (MJSC/RGP-PIA 3)

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