More TB patients can get supermart vouchers

SINGAPORE - Stay on tuberculosis treatment, get supermarket vouchers - this scheme is so successful that it is being extended to benefit even more low-income patients.

Patients from households earning up to $900 per member can now get the vouchers, up from $700 when the scheme was introduced in 2009. This means 10 to 20 per cent more tuberculosis patients may benefit, said Professor Sonny Wang, who heads the Tuberculosis Control Unit at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

If untreated, tuberculosis is fatal, and sufferers can spread the airborne illness to as many as 15 others a year. It has been on the rise after a decade of decline. There were 1,533 new cases in 2011, up from 1,478 in 2010.

The disease is usually curable, but patients must stick to a strict Directly Observed Therapy (Dot) programme to avoid a relapse, and ensure the virus is wiped out from their bodies. They have to go to a polyclinic to take a cocktail of drugs under supervision.

Given that the temptation to give up halfway is strong, said Prof Wang, "to receive assistance in a tangible form is very helpful". Non-profit organisation Sata CommHealth, which has been running this Dot/Shop initiative, on Friday signed a deal with the hospital to commit up to $200,000 worth of FairPrice vouchers for the next two years.

Associate Professor Mak Yuen Teen, chairman of Sata CommHealth, said the initiative has helped the needy stick to treatment. In the last four years, $233,550 worth of vouchers were given to 934 patients. Patients on a six-month antibiotics regime can get $300 of vouchers. Those who undergo nine months of treatment can get $450.

Said Prof Wang: "It is not rare to hear of patients who quit their jobs because of the disease."

One of them is Mr Ng Chwee Geok, 63, who had to quit his $800-a-month minimart job last August when he was diagnosed. He received $40 of vouchers each month. Mr Ng, who recovered last month and will start work as a dishwasher next month, said: "I am very grateful."

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