TB declared national health problem in Vietnam

HANOI - Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan has confirmed that the thousands of yearly deaths in Viet Nam caused by tuberculosis (TB) should be considered a national health problem.

The Deputy PM made this statement on Saturday in Ha Noi at a conference held to review the TB control programme and development plan for the period 2011-15.

"The country has 30,000 people die from TB each year, three times more than the number killed in traffic accidents," Nhan said. "Deaths on the road were regularly reported by the mass media but no TB fatalities were reported daily."

The TB infection rate has fallen by 0.8 per cent annually in Viet Nam, but at that pace it would take 40 years to lower the rate by 43 per cent.

The Ministry of Health said previously that the sector would need around US$350 million (S$440 million) to eliminate TB in Viet Nam in the coming years.

However, Nhan said that to expect such a huge amount of Government support and international aid is unrealistic in the current socio-economic context.

"The health sector should adjust its TB prevention strategy to 2015 and 2020 in order to eliminate the disease in Viet Nam by 2030," he said.

According to the World Health Organisation, the National TB Control Programme has faced many challenges due to the decrease in spending from related bodies.

WHO also suggested that the health sector should restructure its investment activities and spend more on TB prevention and treatment fields.

The health sector and its partners should also raise awareness about TB as a public health emergency with the support of foreign experts.

The programme statistics showed that 60 per cent of TB patients live in 27 provinces and cities in the southern and coastal areas. The programme has detected around 100,000 new TB cases yearly and treated 92 per cent of them.

However, programme director Dinh Ngoc Sy said that around 50 per cent of TB cases have not yet been detected in the community, which posed a significant challenge for the health sector.

For World TB Day on March 24, the Health and Information and Communication ministries released a postal stamp with the slogan "For a Viet Nam Free of Tuberculosis".

Local and international health experts have urged the private health sector to join the fight against tuberculosis in Viet Nam, which is ranked 12th among 22 countries with the highest number of TB patients.

The assistance of private health care, which represents one-third of the medical facility sector, is vital in Viet Nam's TB control strategy, according to Dr. Vu Ngoc Bao.

Bao is the director of PATH Viet Nam's TB programme, which implements TB-control projects on behalf of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), with funding from the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

"By implementing a public-private model (PPM), we can reduce the burden of TB by improving detection and treatment of cases," said Bao.

Since the TB control project began in 2007, 634 private pharmacies, clinics and public non-TB facilities in the country have joined in the fight against TB.

This year the project will expand to other districts in each province, and its organisers plan to work with provincial authorities to en sure the sustainability of the PPM referral model.

According to WHO, Viet Nam ranks 14th among 27 countries with the highest number of patients with multidrug-resistant TB. Last year, 8.4 million people contracted TB and 1.4 million died of the disease.