Mass TB Screening, Treatment Program Gets Underway In Marshall Islands

Second phase of project to target 40% of Ebeye population not helped in phase one

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Feb. 21, 2017) – A mass screening and treatment program for tuberculosis was scheduled to get underway today on Ebeye Island in the Marshall Islands. It is the second phase of a project that was launched in November with an outreach awareness and registration program of about 60 percent of Ebeye’s population in preparation for the nine-week phase two program.

“The Marshall Islands has one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the world,” said Health Minister Kalani Kaneko on the eve of the mass screening. “It’s time to do something about TB in the Marshall Islands.”

The aim is to screen nearly 7,000 islanders aged 15 and up over the next nine weeks and treat everyone found positive. The World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Interior Department and Pacific Island Health Officers Association are supporting the program.

Ebeye is one of three “TB hot spots” in the U.S.-affiliated island area identified by the CDC. The others are Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, and Chuuk state in the Federated States of Micronesia.

Ebeye is a densely populated urban area next to the Army’s Kwajalein missile range where about 12,000 people live on just 80 acres of land. Kaneko said if the Ebeye screening program is successful, the Ministry of Health will focus on Majuro, with a similar mass screening effort later in the year.

The Ministry of Health is taking the opportunity of the TB screening to address other health problems, including checking for leprosy — which remains a problem in the Marshall Islands — and screening for non-communicable diseases with tests of blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol included in the screening effort.

Kaneko said they hope to check an average of 150 people per day over the next nine weeks. A new x-ray machine was purchased for Ebeye to support the TB screening so that chest x-rays can be taken.

“Presently, the TB rate (in the Marshall Islands) is 100 times higher than the U.S., so we hope the tuberculosis-diabetes-leprosy screening project will be successful and have far-reaching impact,” said CDC’s Dr. Richard Brostrom, who is supporting the roll out of the screening on Ebeye. “In 2013, WHO estimated the prevalence of tuberculosis was second highest of any country in the world.”

But non-communication diseases are also of serious concern to health officials, which is why they are being included in the TB screening program.

“The diabetes rate is nearly 40 percent for adults, due to westernization of diet and lack of land for agriculture,” said Brostrom. “The Marshall Islands government has declared states of public health emergency, and the three diseases of most concern are diabetes, tuberculosis, and leprosy.”

Kaneko emphasized that the Marshall Islands has tremendous support for the screening program from “the CDC, WHO, Pacific Island Health Officers Association, U.S. Department of the Interior, and U.S. TB experts from Arkansas, Washington, Tennessee, Nevada, Colorado, Maine, Pohnpei, Palau, and Hawaii.”

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