Forum: Don't neglect ongoing battle against TB

The identification of two separate tuberculosis (TB) clusters linked to a betting centre is a timely reminder of the threat and challenge posed by the disease (Two TB clusters identified at Bedok outlet of S'pore Pools, Jan 21).

Covid-19 has gripped the attention of the world this past year.

As a nation, we have demonstrated that through a combination of decisive public health policy and the willingness of our people to work together for a common goal, it is possible to limit the effects of Covid-19 on the community and economy.

However, Covid-19 has effectively stolen the limelight from the many other diseases that have continually plagued and harmed people for decades. This includes TB.

Globally and locally, the burden of TB remains high. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2019, 1.4 million lives were lost to TB.

The effects of TB, like Covid-19, are far-reaching. With a single positive case, TB can insidiously infect many people as it is an airborne disease.

Multiple generations, both young and old within a single household, may end up developing latent TB infection or TB disease.

TB is a disease with many faces. Patients who are afflicted with it may not develop symptoms for many months or years, or may show symptoms only when the disease has caused significant damage to the body.

TB most commonly affects the lungs, but may also involve many other organs in the body, including the lymph nodes, adrenal glands, bones and even the brain.

Most importantly, TB is treatable and curable. Patients who have started treatment rapidly become non-infectious.

However, the lack of public awareness and understanding of TB has led to continued social stigmatisation of TB patients. This in turn leads to unhealthy psychological pressures on patients receiving TB treatment.

Contacts of TB patients may not attend TB screening due to this fear of stigmatisation.

This deprives patients of the opportunity for early detection and treatment, resulting in further uncontrolled and undetected community spread of TB.

The legacy of our response to Covid-19 will be immediate and obvious, but the ripple effects of our actions to address TB will affect future generations for decades to come.

More should be done to raise public awareness and dispel myths about TB. We should not neglect the ongoing battle against the invisible enemy that is TB.

Pipetius Quah (Dr)