With P1.5-billion TB control budget cut to P500 million, DOH worries undetected infections to rise further

THE Department of Health (DOH) is worried tuberculosis (TB) cases in the Philippines may increase next year following the P1-billion budget cut for the TB Control Program.

Although the DOH earlier reported that the TB cases in the country in the first three months of 2020 has significantly gone down because of the pandemic, the situation may be different in 2021 due to limited budget.

The DOH said the approved National Expenditure Program was only over P502 million for TB program for next year, an amount described as being able to cover less than half of next year’s projected cases.

The original proposed budget was over P1.5 billion intended to purchase diagnostic supplies, medicines for children, patients who are drug-resistant, and for preventive therapy.

“Despite the high budget utilization for the program in 2019 (99 percent) and 2020 (96 percent), only P502,835,000 was approved,” the DOH said. This, the DOH said, may greatly affect their detection of the disease due to limited supply of diagnostic test and medicines for the monthly supply of patients to complete their full-course treatment.

The DOH added that the treatment for drug-resistant patients will be expensive, for “the first line of the drug will not be as effective so they will be needing a stronger antibiotic, other combinations of TB drugs and longer treatment.”

It added that the P502-million budget can only buy medicines for 41 percent of cases for 2021.

“That is why we are still lobbying for an additional budget for National TB Program. We are also looking for possible sources of funds from other infectious diseases that we can pool from our partners like Global Fund,” the DOH said.

From January to March this year, the National Tuberculosis Control Program (NTP) of the Department of Health recorded a total of 88,662 new and relapse TB cases, or a decline of almost 20 percent between February (30,728) and March (24,782).

“We see this as a direct effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on a critical disease prevention and control program like TB,” said Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III.

“The quarantine [period] has extremely affected and limited the health seeking behaviors of our fellow Filipinos,” he added.

Using a projection modeling based on a recent study of the global Stop-TB Partnership, DOH estimates that because of the pandemic, notified cases in 2020 will only reach 72 percent of the annual target.

By the end of 2022, if this trend continues, the DOH warned that the Philippines will miss its commitment by almost 300,000 cases.

“One TB case that we fail to find and treat may spread the infection to at least 10 other people. The reservoir of undetected TB cases will further increase,” Duque warned.

According to Duque, unlike other health programs, having fewer cases is not an indicator of success for the TB program.

Our goal for our TB program is to find and treat as many TB cases as possible. Only by finding and treating these cases can we limit its spread and achieve our dream of a TB-free Philippines,” Duque said.


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