TB number one killer disease - The Borneo Post - Wednesday, 27 march, 2002

JOHOR BAHARU: Tuberculosis or TB is now the number one killer among infectious diseases in Malaysia, killing an average of three people and registering 41 new cases each day, said Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng.

He said last year's statistics showed 14,882 new cases with 1,156 deaths reported throughout the country, making the mortality rate due to TB the highest among infectious diseases.

"It is also higher than the mortality rate due to AIDS/ HIV, cholera and dengue fever," he said when launching the national-level World TB Day with the theme "Stop TB, Fight Poverty" at Senai yesterday.

He said 10 per cent of TB patients last year were foreign workers who entered the country legally and had been sent back to their countries of origin as soon as they were detected as having suffered from the disease. Chua said although the number of cases last year declined slightly compared with the 15,057 cases and 1,295 deaths due to TB in the year 2000, the rate of infection at 62.5 cases for every 100,000 residents was still high compared with the target of 40 cases for every 100,000 residents.

He said Malaysians were fortunate because the government had a good TB control programme which provided diagnostic and early TB detection services as well as medicines free of charge at all government clinics and hospitals.

"The cost of medicines to treat lung TB, which can be cured within six months, is about RM100 per person ... the government also spends RM1 million each year to provide BCG vaccinations to almost half a million infants delivered at government hospitals and clinics," he said. However, he regretted that more than 11 per cent of TB sufferers abandoned treatment which could result in the TB bacteria becoming stronger and infecting other members of the family and the public.

Chua stressed that TB was curable and that the government provided the best medicines recognised by the World Health organisation (WHO) through the Directly Observed Therapy - Short Course or DOTS which could cure 95 per cent of the cases within six months.

In efforts to reduce the TB ratio to 40 cases for every 100,000 residents, he said the government provided various channels for the detection and treatment of the disease including equipping all new clinics and hospitals with x-ray machines and laboratories.

Speaking to reporters later, he said the government was prepared to double the assistance which stood at RM600,000 a year currently for distribution to various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to be given to patients as fare subsidy to go to hospitals and educational activities.

On the theme for this year's celebration, he explained that TB infection brought hardship to the sufferers and their families because the disease affected the patient's source of income and required substantial funds for treatment.

"From another aspect, those living in poverty and in areas which are less comfortable, congested and dirty are more exposed to the risk of TB infection," he said.

According to WHO 75 per cent of TB sufferers in the world are between the ages of 15 and 54. - Bernama