Partnership to address PNG’s multi-drug resistant TB challenge

PNG is facing a public health emergency with the rapid rise of drug resistant tuberculosis (TB) in hotspot areas such as Western Province and the National Capital District.

Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is projected to be the dominant strain in PNG in ten years if no action is taken.

According to the WHO PNG Country Office, national drug resistant TB (DR-TB) prevalence is 3% among new TB cases and 26 % among retreatment cases. This translates to about 2000 new drug resistant TB cases per year. The percentage of DR-TB in the Western Province, National Capital District and other hotspot areas is believed to be much higher.

WHO Country Representative in PNG, Dr Luo Dapeng, emphasized on high-level political commitment, strong partnership and a strong secretariat function to addressing the TB and MDR-TB situation in PNG.“We have made progress in the TB-response because we have the strong leadership and strong partnerships, but this needs to continue to be strengthened in order for us to address TB and MDR-TB in PNG,” said Dr Luo.

An emergency response team (ERT) was created to coordinate stakeholder efforts and avoid duplication, with National Department of Health as chair and WHO as co-chair and secretariat. “The coordinated response in hotspot areas has resulted in a steady increase in case detection and successful treatment for TB and MDR-TB patients” Dr Luo said. Through the ERT, the Government of Papua New Guinea recently secured US$15 million (PGK48 million) from the World Bank for an emergency tuberculosis project (ETP).

The emergency TB project, effective as of the 25th September 2017, has been hailed as welcome news to ongoing, coordinated efforts to address TB. The project aims to control the spread of TB and MDR-TB in hotspot areas by strengthening it’s programmatic management. Its three key components are: early detection of active TB patients; effective treatment of TB patients; and strengthening health delivery systems.

Dr Luo commended the World Bank for stepping up to the TB response, adding this a clear example of strengthened partnerships. A grant of US$15 million (PGK48 million) grant has been committed by the Australian Government’s development partnership with Papua New Guinea for strengthening the ETP. PNG is listed among the top 10 countries with high TB, high MDR-TB and high TB-HIV as per the recent high burden country lists by the World Health Organization. The country’s TB incidence rate (432/100,000) is one of the highest in the Western Pacific Region and 10th highest globally.

As an implementing partner, WHO will continue to provide technical assistance toward the emergency TB project. But while the ETP is necessary and timely, there is much work to be done. “We have come a long way, but there is a long journey ahead. This will require continuous, coordinated and strengthened efforts by all development partners,” said Dr Luo.