The coronavirus pandemic has affected the awareness building, diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis.
Many tuberculosis patients faced difficulty to continue their treatment either because of the lockdown enforced due to the covid-19 pandemic or because of the absence of health assistants in remote tea garden areas in Moulvibazar.
Saiful Islam, 38, a resident of Sindhurkhan area in Sreemangal upazila of Moulvibazar said, “I am tuberculosis patient. I ran out of medicine in May last year.”
“But due to the lockdown, I could not go to the hospital to bring the rest of the medicine. If anyone was even heard coughing, it would be difficult for him to get into transport,” he said.
Twenty-five-year-old Shulekha Ghatual, who lives with five-member family in a tea garden in Sreemangal, said, “I was suffering from a mild cough and fever in May last year. Then I began to lose weight rapidly.”
Her husband Sadhon Ghatual said, “Sometimes I buy her some medicines for fever. But I didn’t find anyone to talk about my wife. I did not find any TB assistant either.”
“Later, I used some local medicine for treatment when she became very weak,” Sadhon also said.
Wishing anonymity, a TB assistant said “Some children and pregnant women are coming here with fever, cold and coughs without masks. But we don’t have personal protective equipment (PPE).”
“And if the situation goes on this way, we can be infected with Covid-19 anytime.”
The coronavirus pandemic has affected the tuberculosis situation in the country. Hence, not only a large number of common TB patients were not diagnosed, but also drug-resistant tuberculosis patients remained unrecognized.
Health experts believe that these patients are increasing the risk of further spread of TB infection remaining out of treatment.
A total 10,077 people were found infected with tuberculosis among only 90,050 presumptive examined in 16 upazilas of Sylhet, Habiganj, and Moulvibazar last year, said Munuru Jacob, project director of HEED Bangladesh TB control.
In 2019, 10,596 people with TB were found among 1,12,639 presumptive examined; the figures in 2018 were 8783 people out of 96,244 presumptive examined respectively.
However, the number of tuberculosis patients in the tea gardens is very high. Because in the tea gardens, population is high and people live in unhygienic condition, he also said.
Dr Chowdhury Jalal Uddin Murshed, civil surgeon of Moulvibazar district, told this correspondent, all training and information centres under the TB program remained suspended due to covid-19, a section of health workers could not attend work due to local lockdown and travel bans, field monitoring had to be discontinued.
The NGOs that run progrmmes to control tuberculosis were also affected by lockdowns. That is why the task of diagnosing tuberculosis came down to one-third.
But now things are becoming normal, he added.
Dr Anisur Rahman, assistant director (disease control) of Health Department Sylhet division said, if someone has cough and fever, first covid-19 test is done then tuberculosis test is done. Many patients get scared and avoid the tests.
He said, Corona infection was first detected in the country on March 8, 2020. Corona has been affecting the tuberculosis program since March last year.