THE declining number of reported tuberculosis (TB) cases in the country does not necessarily mean ‘good news’ as control efforts – case notification and other success markers – have been greatly affected by the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Francisco Duque III, Department of Health (DOH) secretary, said the quarantine has extremely affected and limited the health-seeking behaviors of Filipinos.
The number of notified TB cases in the first quarter of 2020 dropped by 4.2 percent compared to the same period last year. Given this trend, case notification rates may go down by as much 25 percent this year.
Unlike other health programs, Duque said having fewer cases is not an indicator of success for the TB program.
The DOH aims to find and treat 2.5 million Filipinos with active TB by 2022. Doing this can help limit the spread and strategies must be implemented to combat this potentially serious infectious disease.
The DOH mandated all public health facilities to continue TB services during the COVID-19 quarantine.
It eyes to reduce the number of TB deaths from 26,000 (2018) to 22,000 (2023) and to 1,100 (2035), as well as bring down the incidence rate by 12 percent in 2022 and 90 percent in 2035.
Besides passing Republic Act No. 10767 or the Philippine TB Elimination Plan Act in 2016, the budget for the National Tuberculosis Control Program has increased – from P798 million in 2018 to P963 million for this year. Still, this is not enough to cover national targets.
The Philippine Health Insurance Corp. offers P8,000 worth of benefit package which covers diagnostic exams, consultation services, anti-TB drugs, health education and counseling.
Almost all patients will recover and be cured when given adequate TB treatment.
“We are monitoring our stocks to make sure those with active TB have access to free medicines and are able to complete their treatment regimen,” Duque noted.
Health services, including national programs to combat TB, need to be actively engaged for an effective and rapid response to COVID-19 while ensuring that TB services are maintained, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
TB patients should take precautions as advised by health authorities to be protected from COVID-19. They must continue their TB treatment as prescribed.
With restrictions in movement due to the COVID-19, WHO advised that communication with health care services be maintained so that people with TB, especially those most vulnerable, get essential services.
These include management of adverse drug reactions and co-morbidities, nutritional and mental health support, and restocking of the supplies of medicines.
Various digital technologies used in TB program can likewise support the COVID-19 response, including adherence support, electronic medical records and eLearning.
In the face of a pandemic, the prevention and treatment of killer diseases must continue, WHO stressed.