The World Health Organisation estimates that of the nearly nine million people who become ill with tuberculosis every year, nearly one third are ‘missed’ by national health systems. This means that roughly one out of every three individuals with TB is never officially diagnosed or treated and continues to spread, suffer, and die from the disease.
In Steung Meanchey, Cambodia, a new programme, supported by TB REACH, has been introduced to help find people in slums who have symptoms of TB, but have never received a formal diagnosis. TB REACH is a an initiative of the Stop TB Partnership that seeks to use innovative and forward thinking techniques for finding and diagnosing cases of TB in hard to reach populations.
Steung Meanchey is a poor community on the outskirts on Phnom Penh that sits directly above a sewage lake and has high rates of TB due to overcrowded living conditions and poor nutrition. Many families in the community do not have access to health services or are unaware that symptoms such as a cough or weight loss could actually be the early stages of TB. To address this problem, the programme sends health workers to visit families to see if any individuals have symptoms of TB. If they have symptoms, health workers collect a sputum sample from the individual, place it in a cool box and then transport it back to the lab for testing. If the person turns out to have TB, they are provided treatment free of charge, in their home, until they recover.
While the approach of actively finding people in Cambodia who have TB may not sound ground-breaking, it is this sort of alternative approach that has helped the country make inroads against one of the world’s most deadly infectious diseases. Bringing health services to those who might otherwise have difficulty accessing them is helping to ensure people are diagnosed sooner and put on treatment faster, thus stopping the disease from being spread further in the community.
©Nick Axelrod/RESULTS UK