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Indonesian health official warns of TB threat

At least 300 people are dying from the disease each day, 'mainly thanks to Covid-19 fallout'

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Indonesian health official warns of TB threat

As many as 300 Indonesians are dying each day from tuberculosis, according to a health official. (Photo: AFP)

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Indonesia is struggling in its battle to defeat tuberculosis with at least 300 people dying each day from the disease, a senior Health Ministry official has warned.

Dr. Wiendra Waworuntu, director of the ministry’s department of communicable disease prevention and control, said on July 7 that the death rate had reached an alarming level.

“Although the government has provided many tuberculosis drugs, the number of deaths caused by the disease remains high,” Waworuntu said.

TB drugs are easily available at about 10,000 hospitals and community health centers across the country, she said.

“[Unfortunately] at least 13 people die every hour from tuberculosis or about 312 people each day,” Waworuntu added.

With a total of 845,000 sufferers, the World Health Organization ranks Indonesia third behind India and China for the highest number of TB cases in the world.

Waworuntu put the alarming death rate mainly down to the country’s preoccupation in dealing with the coronavirus, which is also transmitted through droplets in the air.

It has meant TB patients have not been getting adequate treatment, she said, adding that the high mortality rate was also caused by patients not taking their medication regularly.

“This is surprising given that drugs for tuberculosis are available for free,” she said.

Dr. Felix Gunawan, director of the Association of Voluntary Health Services of Indonesia — a Catholic group — agreed with Waworuntu's assertion that Covid-19 has played a part in the TB death rate and affected how patients with other diseases are treated.

He said hospitals, community health centers, medical workers, and society have been focusing on the coronavirus, “so tuberculosis patients have not been receiving the same standards of treatment.”

“Covid-19 restrictions on traveling, gathering and meeting other people have also prevented tuberculosis sufferers from being diagnosed and getting treatment,” Gunawan told UCA News.

According to Gunawan, most Indonesians who contract tuberculosis are aged 30-50 and to effectively handle such a high number of cases requires a joint effort between the public and private sectors.

He called on the government to encourage private health facilities to diagnose and provide free treatment for TB patients through subsidies. 

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