Prime Minister Hun Sen celebrated the low rates of illness and death from tuberculosis (TB) in Cambodia. The Kingdom’s statistics are now lower than many other countries, with the death rate dropping from 42 per 100,000 people in 2000 to just 20 in 2020, indicating a drop of 52 per cent.

According to a letter released by the premier to mark World TB day, the rate of new cases (incidence) dropped from 579 cases per 100,000 people in 2000 to 274 in 2020, a drop of 53 per cent. World TB day is observed on March 24, with this year’s theme being “Invest to End TB, Save Lives”.

The purpose of celebrating this day is to promote public health and raise awareness of the fight against TB by helping people learn about the scale of the problem and the consequences of TB. This aims to promote social welfare – as well as the value and dignity of society as a whole, his letter said.

Hun Sen said Cambodia achieved its Millennium Development Goals – in relation to reducing the rates of illness and death from TB – four years ahead of schedule. Cambodia’s achievement in reducing TB cases was a remarkable feat few countries could match, he said.

“Despite our success, I understand that there are still some cases occurring in the Kingdom and some people who have not received treatment. One case is one too many, and efforts must be stepped up to further reduce the rates of TB,” he said.

He added that Cambodia should be proud of its achievements in the fight against TB over the past few years. Twenty years ago, Cambodia had one of the highest TB incidence rates in the world. But in a short time, the Kingdom has become a model country – the envy of the world for its effective control of the disease. Its remarkable achievement is the result of joint efforts by the government to expand TB checks and treatment services into all referral hospitals and health centres across the country.

“We have worked together to ensure that any person suspected of catching it receives timely medical intervention and treatment. In the future, I am confident we will see a world free from TB,” he said.

A TB patient who asked not to be named and has been taking medication for six months said she wanted to be cured, as the symptoms of the infection were terrible. She had struggled with the side effects of the meds, but persisted in taking them.

“I have to take medicine to cure my TB. I am following medical advice, and hope to be free of this disease soon,” she said.

It is estimated that around 10 million people in the world develop TB each year; about three million of them do not have access to care and treatment. About 1.4 million people a year lose their lives to it.

The National Centre for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control (CENAT) said the National TB Programme covers 100 per cent of its services in all referral hospitals and health centres across the country. The programme has expanded – it 2008, treatment was available in 506 health centres, but by 2021, a total of 1,147 centres could treat it.

CENAT director Huot Chan Yuda said TB was a 100 per cent treatable disease and he called for non-discrimination against TB patients as it could increase the risk of them not seeking treatment and follow-up care. All treatment for TB is free of charge, he noted.