Country’s TB Rate High Despite Improvement

The percentage of Cambodia’s population falling ill with tuberculosis continued a gradual decline in 2007, but remained one of the highest rates in the world, according to an annual report released Tuesday by the World Health Organization.

Cambodia saw about 495 new cases per every 100,000 people in 2007, for a total of about 72,000 new cases, according to the report, which was issued on Tuesday to mark World Tuberculosis Day. Of the 22 countries with the most new tuberculosis cases, only South Africa and Zimbabwe had higher rates of people getting the disease than Cambodia.

“The rates of people dying from tuberculosis and the rates of incidence of tuberculosis in Cambodia are extremely high,” said Jamhoih Tonsing, Stop TB medical officer for the WHO in Cambodia.

For every 100,000 people in Cambodia, about 89 people died of tuberculosis in 2007, a total of roughly 13,000 deaths. As a rate, that’s the highest in the WHO region running from China to Australia.

The rate of people dying of tuberculosis who also have HIV/AIDS is the second highest in the region, at 13 per 100,000 people in Cambodia, behind Papua New Guinea, although data wasn’t available for some countries in the region.

“We have a significant HIV problem in Cambodia compared to other countries,” Tonsing said. “If people have tuberculosis and HIV they are very much more likely to die.”

Unlike HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis can be cured. The process takes about six months, said Team Bak Khim, acting director of the National Tuberculosis Control Program.

“We provide the people medical treatment for free. Even though they don’t have to pay any money for the treatment, they have to spend some money for transportation, so we will just give them more easy access,” he said.

“The government will build more health centers and posts to give access to cures and encourage people to come,” he said. “Before the people who have [tuberculosis] they didn’t come and get cured. When they don’t come and get cured the illness will spread very fast.”

Poorer countries tend to have more cases of tuberculosis because of lack of medical care, poor nutrition, and crowded living conditions, Tonsing said.

“Typically it takes decades to get the incidence going down,” she said. Cambodia’s rate dropped from 585 per 100,000 in 1990 to 530 per 100,000 in 2000 before falling to 495 per 100,000 in 2007. China had the highest number of new tuberculosis cases in the world in 2007, but only had an incidence of 98 per 100,000.

Tonsing pointed to high treatment rates of more than 90 percent as one sign that Cambodia’s tuberculosis control program is on the right track.

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