Doctors disagree whether the increase in tuberculosis cases means more people are seeking help or more are becoming infected with the disease
Bith Se, a 36-year-old tuberculosis patient, receives medicine Wednesday at the National Centre for Turberculosis and Leprosy Control in Phnom Penh.
THE number of tuberculosis patients in Cambodia has jumped five percent since last year, with 28,000 cases in the last nine months of 2008, said Dr Mao Tan Eang, the director of the National Centre for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control.
While some doctors say this spike is the result of a successful campaign to treat people who would not otherwise have sought medical care, others simply say the epidemic is growing.
Health professionals, however, can agree that seeking proper medical treatment for tuberculosis is more important now than ever.
"We are very happy with this number because it follows a new strategy to find more patients," Mao Tan Eang said. "When we find more patients, we can give them medicine and reduce the spread of the disease."
Mao Tan Eang says Cambodia is well-equipped to fight tuberculosis for years into the future.
"We have enough tuberculosis medicine in our warehouse to support patients for two years, and we have the funds to buy the medicine for three or four years after that," he said.
But Dr Leng Saroeung, the head of the Tuberculosis Department at Ang Roka Hospital in Takeo province, told the Post, "The national anti-tuberculosis program has reported a remarkable increase [in cases] and that makes us worried".
"We have conducted careful research that has shown us that the number of people who are affected by tuberculosis has increased," he said.
Resistance can happen when patients use inappropriate medicines.
As the number of tuberculosis cases increases, so has the number of drug-resistant patients. The threat of resistant tuberculosis further underscores the importance of seeking professional medical help.
"Sometimes resistance can happen when patients use inappropriate medicines from private clinics or stop taking medicines in the middle of the treatment," he said.
Ros Samart, 47, who has had tuberculosis for almost a year, stressed the importance of hospital care.
"I didn't know I had tuberculosis, so I bought the medicines near my house, but I did not recover," he said. "I have been at the hospital for more than a month."
Teang Sy Vanna, the deputy director of the National Anti-tuberculosis Centre at the Ministry of Health, said that due to new multi-drug treatments, the amount of time it takes to cure tuberculosis has halved to only six months - if patients get the proper treatment.
"We know that the medicines we are using at moment are more effective than those we used before. Now, one tablet is made from a combination of two or three different drugs," he said.
It is not just better drug cocktails, but also improved training that has made the nation's hospitals better at fighting the deadly disease.
"Many international partners have given us advice about how to use of the new multi-substance medicine. The medicines have few adverse side effects because now we are properly trained," he said.