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Opening of Third STOP Tuberculosis in the Pacific

Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC)
Press Release

Opening of the Third STOP Tuberculosis in the Pacific Meeting

Noumea, Monday 31 August- Representatives of Health Ministries from 20 Pacific Island countries and territories gathered today in Noumea for the opening of the Third Pacific STOP Tuberculosis (TB) Meeting.

The meeting, which is the second of three TB meetings being held this week at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s (SPC) headquarters, will review the implementation of TB treatment and control activities in the Pacific. The outcomes of the review will guide plans for achieving the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2010 targets for TB control.

Having successfully met WHO’s 2005 targets, the region now needs to take action to reduce the TB burden. Every year an average of 1200 people become sick with tuberculosis in the Pacific Islands. The aim is to halve the number of TB cases and deaths by 2010 compared with figures for 2000.

“Despite the increasing TB burden, I am very pleased to note that as a region we achieved the three global targets for 2005,” said Dr Jimmie Rodgers, SPC Director- General in his opening speech. “The DOTS (directly observed treatment, short-course therapy) strategy is now well established and fully accessible to every one of the 3 million people living in Pacific Island countries outside PNG. More than 70% of the estimated TB cases are being diagnosed, and at least 8 out of 10 cases are being successfully treated.”

Despite this good news, however, Dr Rodgers highlighted a disturbing trend in TB rates among central Pacific Island countries (again excluding PNG) with a 33% rise in all types of TB between 2000 and 2005. The largest percentage increases in annual rates were observed in Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Solomon Islands.

The rate for all types of TB among women has gone up by 32% in the last 6 years, mostly in women of reproductive age. Women made up almost half of all infectious TB cases reported between 2000 and 2005; 30% of them were in the 15–24 age group.

“We need to further enhance the quality of the DOTS services we’ve established by strengthening health systems, increasing resources, adapting DOTS to local situations, building stronger partnerships with the community and promoting operational research,” said Dr Rodgers.

Dr Rodgers ended his remarks by saying, “It is imperative that we take strong precautionary measures at this early stage by carefully planning and examining our strategies to ensure we can minimise the impact of these emerging trends in TB infection in our region. Failing to do this could be very costly in terms of lives lost and resources expended.”

The Third STOP Tuberculosis in the Pacific meeting is being held back-to-back with the first meeting on TB/ HIV co-infection beginning on 3 August. TB/HIV co-infection is on the rise in the Pacific as the two diseases are mutually reinforcing: HIV weakens the immune system and TB takes advantage of this weakness.

The meetings, which have been jointly organised by SPC and WHO, are being attended by representatives from AusAID, NZAID, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and TB laboratories in Australia and New Zealand.

ENDS

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