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HEALTH REPORT – Finding and Treating Tuberculosis - 2004-09-07

Broadcast: September 8, 2004

This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Experts on tuberculosis say the best treatment program for this lung disease is DOTS. DOTS is directly observed treatment, short-course. This means health care workers watch patients take their medicine every day. This is a way to make sure patients take medicine long enough to kill the germs that cause TB.

China recently reported a drop in tuberculosis rates because of DOTS. There has also been some success in the Philippines. But public health centers identified only sixty percent of TB cases in the country. So Philippine health officials have decided also to include private doctors in the program.

Experts hope such efforts will reduce the spread of the kind of tuberculosis that resists common drugs. People with drug-resistant TB must take medicines that cost much more. And they must take these for eighteen to twenty-four months.

Normally, patients with TB must take medicine for six to eight months. The DOTS program calls for direct observation for the first two months at least.

Health experts say most people treated for TB are cured. But getting people to take all their medicine is not the only problem. Around the world, experts say only thirty-seven percent of TB cases are ever identified.

The World Health Organization is trying new ways to educate people to see a health worker as soon as they show signs of the disease. Earlier this year, a program started in Kenya. The program is called COMBI, which means Communication for Behavioral Impact.

Kenyan schoolchildren take home information about TB. People also get information through television and in movies and when they go into businesses. Colorful signs identify health care centers where people can be tested.

Doctors say people who have a cough that does not go away after three weeks should get tested for TB. Infected people spread the bacteria through the air when they cough. Also, people with TB often have hiccups that will not stop. They may sweat at night and feel very hot.

Yet there are reasons why people do not go to a doctor when they have signs of TB. They may not think a cough is very serious. They may need to keep working even though they are sick. Finding a doctor may not be easy. In the words of a W.H.O. report, “Knowing what to do is different from doing it.”

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Karen Leggett. This is Gwen Outen.