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By Peter Korugl

LAE, Papua New Guinea (November 15, 1999 – The National)---Tuberculosis (TB) has reached the crisis stage in the Western Pacific, including Papua New Guinea.

An estimated 1.96 million people were affected last year, according to the World Health Organization.

WHO's Regional Committee, after its September session, declared the situation a "tuberculosis crisis" in the Western Pacific, stating that an estimated 355,000 people in the region died from the disease last year.

The committee, at its meeting in Macau, noted the steady increase in TB cases during the last 10 years in not only the developing countries but newly industrialized countries as well.

The committee noted that there had been no decrease in the number of cases in the region due to an increase in the disease in older people and the number of new cases imported from countries with high TB prevalence.

"It is simply unacceptable that the region should be entering the new millennium with rising levels of tuberculosis," WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific, Dr. Shigeru Omi, said.

Mr. Omi said the region contained 29 percent of the global tuberculosis cases and it was imperative that all member states give high priority to bringing this number down.

"If we have the political will, we can halve the number of tuberculosis cases in the region within 10 years," Dr. Omi said.

He said WHO was determined to reduce transmission of the disease in the region and has launched the "Stop TB in the Western Pacific" project.

He said member countries should concentrate on intensifying TB control by using the WHO recommended strategy, directly observed treatment (DOTS), short courses.

"Yet even though the problem is extremely serious, an affordable and cost-effective anti-tuberculosis strategy is already available," Dr. Omi said, adding that the drugs to treat one patient for six months range from US$ 20 to US$ 30.

DOTS can cure nine out of 10 cases, stop transmission from the source of the infection and can also stop the development of drug resistance by ensuring that patients take their drugs regularly.

The main constraint to wider DOTS coverage in the region has been inadequate political and government commitment to fight the disease.

WHO noted that the rate of infection rose from 18 per 100,000 population in 1994 to 23 in 1998, a 28 percent increase.

WHO estimated that there were 1.96 million new cases of TB in the region in 1998 and only 43 percent of these estimated cases were registered.

Another problem is HIV/TB co-infection. WHO stated that although it was low, the cases are expected to rise over the next few years.

"I hope that all member-states will join us in giving the highest priority to TB control, using DOTS strategy within the framework of health sector development.

"Working together, I am sure that we shall succeed in our target of halving the number of TB cases in the region in 10 years," Dr. Omi said.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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