CONSIDERING the prevalence of the disease in Pakistan, the passage of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Tuberculosis Notification Bill 2016 on Monday is a welcome development. The legislation calls for declaring TB a ‘notified disease’ and ensuring patients are provided free diagnosis and treatment. Pakistan has the fifth highest incidence of TB in the world, and as per WHO, over 400,000 new cases are reported every year. As with many other diseases, the poor are most affected, mostly due to congested living conditions and lack of a nutritious diet. Yet while the disease is communicable, it is also curable provided the regimen prescribed by medical professionals is rigorously followed. Unfortunately, if patients stop taking their medicine, they only reinforce multidrug resistant, or MDR, TB, which is much more difficult to treat. The intent behind the new KP law was to address the increasing number of MDR TB cases in the province. With the new law, ‘notified’ patients will be eligible for treatment at state-run centres as reportedly many facilities in the private sector lack the expertise to diagnose and treat TB effectively.
It is hoped that KP’s passage of the bill proves to be an effective intervention against TB. There is already a functioning National TB Control Programme, and we hope both the federal and provincial programmes prove to be complementary. A few months ago, there was a reported shortage of many essential drugs, including TB medicines, apparently due to a pricing dispute. It should be remembered that TB drugs must be made available in plentiful supply as any break in treatment can lead to MDR TB. There should be increased efforts to advertise the presence of official TB control centres, particularly in areas where a high number of cases have been reported, while drugs should be available in every district countrywide. There has been progress over the years where tackling the spread of TB is concerned; these efforts must be continued and streamlined to eventually eradicate the disease in Pakistan.
Published in Dawn September 28th, 2016