Number of TB cases up 7.9% last year

Tuberculosis (TB) cases are on the rise, but have remained within a stable range in recent years, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Last year, Singapore saw 1,617 new cases of TB, an increase of 119 cases - or about 7.9 per cent - compared with the previous year, said the MOH yesterday as it released data in conjunction with World TB Day, which falls on March 24 yearly.

There were also 142 relapses of TB, a slight decline from the 144 relapses seen in 2015.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesman for MOH said TB incidence rates have been fluctuating within a stable range over the last several years.

The ministry also urged members of the public to play their part in eradicating TB. "Employers can also play their part, by granting their employees flexibility during the day to access DOT," it added.

DOT stands for directly observed treatment, a World Health Organisation-endorsed treatment regime under which TB patients are administered medication by a nurse daily.

In Singapore, it is provided at polyclinics. To combat the infection, patients are required to commit to a daily medication schedule for six to nine months, depending on the severity of their infections.

The MOH also highlighted that three cases of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) were diagnosed in Singapore. This strain of TB is more difficult to treat owing to its drug resistance and has a mortality rate as high as 40 per cent globally, requiring DOT for up to two years.

As both MDR-TB and TB relapse can arise from non-completion of treatment, patients must be incentivised to continue with their treatment, said Dr K. Thomas Abraham, chief executive of non-profit healthcare provider Sata Commhealth.

His firm yesterday renewed a pact with Tan Tock Seng Hospital - where the TB Control Unit is located - for the DOT and Shop programme, which provides grocery vouchers to lower-income TB patients on DOT.

"We are providing up to $100,000 a year to offset the cost of groceries by giving them (qualifying patients) FairPrice vouchers," Dr Abraham told The Straits Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Number of TB cases up 7.9% last year'. Print Edition | Subscribe