Reaching TB Patients: UNDP helps Tuberculosis through the Global Fund

Mustafa Al- Khani, a famous Syrian actor inspects laboratory equipment in a Global Fund supported TB Health Center.

Tuberculosis is a disease that is characterized with public ignorance and high social stigma of TB-patients leading to possible infected people to turn away support and care. According to the World Health Organization, the TB incidence rate in Syria is 18 per 100.000 populations. In 2013 3600 people have been diagnosed and treated for first and second line Tuberculosis.

Although still a relatively small number, there are many raised risks of contracting the disease mainly due to rapid displacements caused by the current crisis and inaction by people to get tested or treated. TB is a curable disease however discontinued treatment is very common which leads patients to develop resistance to treatment.

Highlights

  • The grant rehabilitated 64 health facilities dedicated to diagnose and treat TB patients which reached up to 3000 people per year including MDR patients.
  • After this initiative, the number of people who visited health centers for testing has increased by 10%, thus making it better for the Global Fund and health partners to identify and reach out to patients.

The primary challenge which prevails is identifying MDR patients mainly because examining facilities are not accessible for all people especially those who live in areas that are experiencing violence. The main three centers that once offered specialized facilities for TB culture in Aleppo, Hassakeh, and Homs are out of service and people around those areas are incapable of travel to access to testing or treatment facilities elsewhere.

“TB treatment facilities were operating at full capacity before the crisis, and filled with specialized medical personnel and equipment” said Ghassan Shannan, who is the Global Fund National Coordinator in Syria. “These centers provided treatment services to patients and laboratory testing, but now, Syria is only left with 60% of TB centers, and this reduces the national capabilities in addressing possible infection or treating current ones.

The Global Fund works through UNDP who is the principal recipient of the grant which so far reached USD7.5 million since 2007. The objective of the grant is to support the National TB program in the country with various national and local actors including NGO’s and the private sector.

The grant rehabilitated 64 health facilities dedicated to diagnose and treat TB patients which reached up to 3000 people per year including MDR patients. There are about 3000 health centers in Syria in which the 64 are dedicated to TB treatment and diagnosis. Out of the 64, there are currently 40 that remain in operation. One of the centers established by the Fund in Homs, to hospitalize MDR patients and offer testing services is unreachable due to road blockages.

While expanding such initiatives is necessary, reaching out to people moving at rapid paces such as internally displaced persons is a must and a challenge.

“Since one of the main obstacles is reach, we are working closely with civil society partners and other UN humanitarian agencies supporting internally displaced persons to test people” confirmed Shannan.

The Global Fund has so far tested about one million people living in shelters. People within shelters are tested as part of a mandatory health checkup and people outside shelters are provided with pamphlets that offer guidance information about symptoms along with their humanitarian support materials such as non-food items. There are currently one million people living in shelters and six outside shelters.

“I never thought I may have TB, however after reading the pamphlet that was provided to me with the bag of humanitarian aid, I approached a health center and discovered that I was diagnosed with TB” said Ahmad Mohamad who now receives support from the global fund team through hospitalization benefits.

After this initiative, the number of people who visited health centers for testing has increased by 10%, thus making it better for the Global Fund and health partners to identify and reach out to patients.

Another major issue addressed by the Global Fund is disruption of income incurred by TB patients who are obliged to be hospitalized for at least six months during the intensive stage of the treatment which last for six months.

Since patients have to stay this long, most are unable to maintain their jobs and care for their families. To solve this problem, patients are given 100USD each month by the Global Fund for two years. This has also become a major incentive for people to seek treatment which is a major contributor to reducing the prevalence rate.

“I have left my job as a factory worker, therefore, the support I receive from the Global Fund is vital to my family” said Ahmad Mohammad who has to stay 6 months in a hospital bed.

Mohammad is one of 4000 people who receive the financial aid from the Global Fund. However, financial aid and access also need public support and understanding so that patients feel comfortable to address any suspicion they have about their health.

“There is a stigma associated with TB patients and ignorance of the available facilities which include free diagnosis treatment and full care of patients” said Shannan. “If people checked themselves more, there will be a better decrease in incidence rate as such an infectious disease can be managed” confirmed Shannan.

In 2013 alone, the Global Fund reached about 3,600 TB patients, who all received medication and full care. While Syria’s health sector becomes heavily tolled due to the crisis, such support by UNDP is pivotal especially when poverty levels are at 45% and livelihoods of such patients are disrupted.

“I feel blessed that I am being cared for” said Mohamad. “While I never thought I would be infected, I also never thought I would be taken care of both medically and financial considering the dire circumstances the country is going through” confirmed Mohamad.