‘Clock Ticking’ on tuberculosis

Azlan Othman

In Brunei Darussalam, the incidence rate of Tuberculosis (TB) has increased from 53 cases per 100,000 population in 2019 to 68 cases per 100,000 population in 2020.

This was said by Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar in a message to mark World TB Day 2021, which is celebrated every March 24. This year, it carries the theme, ‘The Clock is Ticking’.

Among the contributors for the increase in the number of cases detected is the increased surveillance or surveillance to detect TB-infected patients. This surveillance will allow people infected with TB to be detected and registered earlier and will allow them to be treated at an earlier stage. This will prevent the spread of infection to people living nearby as well as prevent morbidity and death from TB disease. The rising life expectancy rate in Brunei is also one of the contributors to the increase in the number of cases. Improvements in the healthcare system have allowed people to live longer.

However Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham said with increasing life expectancy, people will be more susceptible to infections such as TB, especially with the current situation where there is an increase in the rate of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.

Medical studies have shown that there is an association between three non-communicable diseases with TB. This is due to a low immune system in people with non-communicable diseases. Therefore, the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases is one important element in preventing and controlling TB in the country.

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar. PHOTO: MOH

“Brunei is fortunate because the rate of TB immunity to anti-TB drugs (multi-drug resistant TB and extensively drug-resistant TB) as well as cases of TB infection among HIV (TB-HIV) patients in the country is very low. These two matters are two of the major challenges that the world is facing today,” the minister said.

World TB Day is celebrated to raise awareness of all that TB can still be detected in most countries. According to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, TB causes about 1.4 million deaths each year, mostly in developing countries.

For 2021, WHO and the Stop TB Partnership chose ‘The clock is Ticking’ as the theme for this year. The theme, which has various definitions and covers all aspects of TB infection prevention and control, aims to remind all of the commitment that has been given and inspire enthusiasm to expedite action in the prevention and control of TB disease.

It also conveys the message that the world is running out of time to act on the commitment to end TB made by global leaders. This is particularly critical in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic which has led to a setback in the target of reducing TB infection rates globally.

“As the world unites to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, we must maintain the continuity of essential services for people infected with TB during the COVID-19 outbreak. It is important that the progress made in TB prevention and care does not face setbacks by the COVID-19 pandemic. Finding and treating TB patients is a cornerstone of TB prevention and care and requires constant attention,” said the minister.

He added that the Ministry of Health (MoH) will continue to be proactive to ensure that these challenges are always under control in the country. “The MoH has focussed strategies and actions to control TB in Brunei, namely improvement of TB surveillance system; use of DOTS video to facilitate the monitoring of patients taking TB medication through the BruHealth app; enhancing awareness of all parties including health professionals and the public about TB; strengthening the TB Screening Programme with specific target groups; and treatment and monitoring of TB patients, including to prevent the emergence of TB immunity to anti-TB drugs.

“Cooperation and commitment from all stakeholders, including village heads, the private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), educational institutions and all walks of life are urgently needed because ‘the clock is ticking’ to prevent, control and further eradicate TB disease in the country,” the minister added.