TUBERCULOSIS CONTROL EFFORTS MUST BE MAINTAINED IN THE PACIFIC

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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (June 29, 2000 – WHO/SPC)---"Tuberculosis is a worldwide threat. Though the Pacific islands are less affected than some Asian and African countries, the disease remains a very serious problem especially because of the emergence of drug-resistant TB strains," said regional experts at the first STOP TB meeting in the Pacific islands, now under way in Noumea, New Caledonia.

The conference is being organized by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the World Health Organization from 26 to 29 June. Participants are TB Program Managers from twenty Pacific islands, SPC and WHO TB specialists and regional advisers.

"The meeting aims to introduce and expand the DOTS strategy in the Pacific islands," Dr. Shigeru Omi, Regional Director of the WHO Western Pacific Office, explained.

DOTS is the WHO-recommended strategy to control and prevent tuberculosis.

"Under DOTS, patients are provided with drugs and observed by health workers while taking them."

Over the two first days, Pacific islands representatives presented the national TB situations. The notification rates are extremely different from one country to another, from 30 cases per 100,000 population up to around 300 per 100,000. In countries where TB control programs using DOTS strategy have been implemented, very encouraging results have been obtained. The cure rates observed average 75 to 80 % of TB infectious patients treated.

Yet Pacific island TB managers face some constraints: the lack of financial and staffing resources, the lack of diagnostic services, the difficulty in the supervision and monitoring of the patients. Under DOTS, the antibiotic treatment has to be taken daily over six months. Often there is a risk of interruption when infectious patients go back home after the first two months spent in the hospital or dispensary, especially if they live off-island.

However DOTS implementation is still at "an early stage" in the Pacific islands countries and in some of them has not been introduced yet. "Efforts have to be maintained and Pacific island TB managers were very interested in examining altogether possible ways to improve TB control and prevention," Dr. Janet O'Connor, SPC TB Specialist, said.

The commitment of the governments as well as the creation of a strong partnership have been discussed in the first part of the meeting, which concentrated on strategic and political issues.

"Confronting tuberculosis requires political commitment across government sectors to ensure that sufficient human and financial resources are available on a sustainable basis," Dr. Omi outlined. "I would like to mention a TB Project as an example of this partnership. Funded by NZODA and implemented by SPC in collaboration with WHO and the Member States, the project has produced promising results in the prevention and control of TB in the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Samoa and Tonga."

"SPC indeed places great importance in our relationship with other regional bodies," Lourdes Pangelinan, SPC Director General, declared. "We have found that sharing knowledge and expertise among our organizations has enhanced our collective ability to better respond to the needs of the Pacific island countries and territories that we serve. The work we do in the area of tuberculosis control is an excellent example of how effective this partnership is. We are committed to continuing this collaborative effort, and would look to forging similar partnerships with governments throughout the Pacific region in this continuing fight to stop TB.

 

SECRETARIAT OF THE PACIFIC COMMUNITY (SPC) Noumea, New Caledonia Suva, Fiji Islands

NEWS RELEASE June 28, 2000

PACIFIC ISLAND COUNTRIES TO LAUNCH "STOP TB INITIATIVE"

Pacific island countries are strengthening collaboration between countries and international partners to tackle the spread of tuberculosis epidemic in the Pacific and to develop national plans for TB control. A joint World Health Organization/Secretariat of the Pacific Community (WHO/SPC) meeting has brought together health professionals to review the tuberculosis situation in the Pacific and find ways to improve TB control programs at national and local levels. Health professionals from 20 Pacific island countries and areas are attending the "First Stop TB Meeting in the Pacific Islands" from 26 to 29 June, in Noumea, New Caledonia.

The Pacific "Stop TB Initiative," launched at the "First Stop TB Meeting in the Pacific Islands," aims to build partnerships among countries and stake holders to achieve two targets: to introduce the WHO-recommended directly observed treatment, short-course (DOTS) strategy to all Pacific island countries by 2002, and to expand DOTS coverage to detect 70% of all existing TB cases and cure 85% of the patients by 2005.

The "First Stop TB Meeting" also aims to review, finalize and endorse a "Pacific Islands Strategic Plan to Stop TB." The plan, based on the WHO Regional Strategic Plan to Stop TB, seeks to reduce TB prevalence in the Region by half by 2010. In the Western Pacific Region, approximately 355,000 die from tuberculosis of an estimated two million people who develop the disease annually. The region's countries account for almost 30% of the global burden of infectious diseases, and 70% of these cases are found within the 15 to 54 years age bracket, the most productive segment of the population.

The Pacific island countries are particularly susceptible to this dreadful disease. In 1998, the case notification rate in these countries was 59 per 100,000 population, higher than the entire region's case notification rate of 51 per 100 000 population. Since 1998, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community has implemented the TB Control Project in close collaboration with WHO. This program has helped improve the prevention and control of TB in the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Samoa and Tonga by using the DOTS strategy. The results have been very encouraging.

The expansion of the DOTS strategy to all Pacific island countries and territories is part of the "Stop TB Special Project in the Western Pacific Region," which was launched in February 2000 by the WHO TB Technical Advisory Group. Participants of the "Stop TB" Meeting" are identifying constraints and solutions for effective tuberculosis program management, including drug supply, laboratory services, information systems, financing and human resources requirements.

At the launching, Dr. Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, and Mrs. Lourdes Pangelinan, SPC Director General, emphasized the importance of building partnerships to better deal with the complexities of tuberculosis-related health issues. Pacific island countries have expressed their desire to build closer partnerships with WHO, SPC, Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the Government of Japan, New Zealand Overseas Development Assistance (NZODA), and other international partners to stop the spread of tuberculosis.

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