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More than 77,000 tuberculosis patients could not be detected last year due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, according to the National Tuberculosis Programme (NTP) of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).

NPT recently revealed the report.

A target is set to identify TB patients a year on the basis of population, outbreak of the disease and the capacity of the NTP.

In 2020, the target was set to detect 307,674 new tuberculosis patients.

According to a study by the National Tuberculosis Programme, some 230,090 tuberculosis patients have been identified between January and December in 2020. Some 77,584 patients remained undetected.

Samiul Islam, director of NTP, told Prothom Alo that about 20 to 25 million people get infected with common fever and cough throughout the year.

A portion of them are tuberculosis patients. About 2.7 million samples are tested every year after observing the symptoms. The patients are detected in this way and the treatment begins.

According to the NTP, 50 per cent of the undetected patients are from 13 districts – Bagura, Sirajganj, Mymensingh, Sunamganj, Sylhet, Gazipur, Narsingdi, Dhaka, Narayanganj, Cumilla, Noakhali, Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar.

The number of the detected tuberculosis patients is less in these districts than the other districts.

Not only the number of the detected common tuberculosis patients, but also the number of detected drug-resistant patients is low. The tuberculosis germs become drug-resistant due to irregular medication or low quality medicine or not completing the full dose.

In 2020, the target was to detect 1,898 such patients. However, 974 such patients have been identified. The undetected patients are not receiving any treatment. They poses a risk of tuberculosis infection.

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According to the latest study of the World Health Organisation, there are 361,000 tuberculosis patients in the country. Tuberculosis is the reason for the death of 39,000 people every year. 19 per cent of the detected tuberculosis patients remain outside the treatment facilities.

On the other hand, the treatment is not effective for six per cent of the patients who are getting treatment. Bangladesh is among the list of the countries with a high incidence of tuberculosis.

Renowned expert in chest diseases and the secretary general of the Lung Foundation, professor Asif Mostapha told Prothom Alo that it is a big challenge for the entire world. In the countries which lack resources, the problem is even more severe.

However, the DGHS has already started the necessary work to resolve the problem. Professional physicians are helping the government in this regard.

Not only a large number of common tuberculosis patients have not been identified, but drug-resistant tuberculosis patients have remained undetected. Experts are estimating that being outside the treatment facilities. These patients are increasing the risk of tuberculosis infection.

Tuberculosis services, like other health and medical services, have been affected in many parts of the world due to coronavirus.

In an article published in the medical journal “Lancet” in September last year, it was stated that in the countries with a high incidence of tuberculosis, the risk of death may increase by 20 per cent in the next five years. Coronavirus pandemic is not over yet.

After evaluating the present tuberculosis situation, the officials of NTP said it is difficult to distinguish between coronavirus and tuberculosis as both the diseases show common symptoms like cough, breathing difficulties and fever.

General people and health workers rarely visited the health centres due to fear of contracting coronavirus. However, the authorities concerned have made a plan to compensate for the damage.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu.

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