Pakistan has intensified efforts to contain tuberculosis (TB), which affects about 17,000 people, making the country sixth among nations with the highest burden of disease, according to officials.
"TB is a curable disease," said Ejaz Qadeer, programme manager of the National TB Control Programme (NTCP). "All it needs [is] a complete treatment [effort] spanning over eight months. Under a public/private partnership programme entitled 'Stop TB', 7,000 TB care centres are being set up. We are planning to create awareness at all levels, although it is difficult and there is a lot of resistance, especially when it comes to schoolchildren and the education department."
According to Nadeem Zaka, senior medical officer at the health department in Punjab, TB is responsible for 5.1 percent of the total national disease burden in Pakistan.
Muhammad Anwar, senior programme manager for advocacy at NTCP, said: "The mission focuses on improving case detection, treatment adherence, combating stigma and treating TB patients."
On the impact of the disease on patients, Anwar said: "The three major difficulties incorporated in their lives due to TB are financial problems, loneliness and hospitalization. NTCP is providing 90 percent of its treatment free of cost to poor patients and providing free medicines to private clinics and hospitals so that free TB medication is available to all segments of society.
"In 56 districts [in Punjab Province] over 5,000 health centres are working, while Rural Health Units are delivering their best in providing medical facilities to TB patients."
The involvement of teachers, religious scholars, students and health workers on a large scale has seen a gradual change for the better, and Anwar was hopeful the government would achieve its Millennium Development Goal.
But the costs are high, experts say, and the government has been obliged to turn to the Global Fund in Geneva.
"[Initiatives aimed at] reducing the burden of tuberculosis in Pakistan by improving access to quality care services will receive grants worth US$147,281,452 in two phases," said Marcela Rojo, a spokeswoman for the Global Fund, Geneva. The first grant worth $9,936,769 has been released.
Meanwhile, those living with the disease complain of stigma and discrimination. "People act strange when told of this disease," said Jahangir, a TB patient. "They avoid you. They need to be told there is a cure."
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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