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Gains made in fight against TB

Patients sit on their beds at the National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district in 2013.
Patients sit on their beds at the National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district in 2013. Heng Chivoan

Gains made in fight against TB

Cambodian health officials in a statement on Monday lauded the country’s success in cutting back the tuberculosis mortality rate by 55 percent in 16 years – a triumph highlighted in a recent WHO report, which also found a $19 million funding gap for TB in the country this year.

While the Ministry of Health’s National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control, in a statement, attributed the gains mainly to the commitment of the Cambodian government, the report shows that the government only contributed $3.5 million to the national TB budget for 2017, less than 10 percent of the total $37 million budget. International donors put forward $14 million, leaving the rest unfunded.

Still, from 2000 to 2016, the mortality rate for TB dipped from more than 40 per 100,000 people to just 20, according to the statement and to the WHO’s global TB report, released in late October.

“Cambodia has been obtaining successful results in fighting Tuberculosis,” the statement reads. Dr Mao Tan Eang, director of the National Center for Tuberculosis, couldn’t be reached and didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did Health Ministry spokesman Ly Sovann.

In the statement, the centre says the Ministry of Health provides checkups and treatment services at the government’s expense at a total of 1,372 locations across the country.

Dr Mishal Khan, of the TB Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the drop in mortality is a great achievement.

“TB is a disease that has been curable for decades so it really should not be killing people any more at all,” he said in an email.

The total number of TB cases identified in Cambodia in 2016 was 33,376. During the first nine months in 2017, the number of TB cases recorded was 25,216, on par with the 25,362 cases recorded during the same period in 2016, according to the government’s statement.

Chum Sopha, executive director of the NGO Health and Development Alliance, acknowledged the accomplishment in decreasing the mortality rate, but said there is a need for increased funding.

“The [funding] gap is very big,” he said, adding that most of the current funding is spent on treatment, with not enough going toward prevention and early case detection. “It should be at least $20 million per year.”

But shortage of funding for health in general is a problem in many low- and middle-income countries, the London School’s Khan added.

“In situations when funding is limited, it is really important to make good decisions on where to use the resources in order to have the most impact on population health,” he continued.

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