FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Dangerous Resurgence of Tuberculosis in China

by

China now has the second largest tuberculosis epidemic -second only to India- with more than 1.3 million new cases of tuberculosis every year. What makes the situation particularly serious, however, is that, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control, China has the largest number of patients with Multiple Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB), and that Extremely Resistant Drug Tuberculosis (XDR-TB) is also widespread. These facts show the need to step up efforts to combat the disease.

In 1993, the World Health Organization (WHO) instituted a cost-effective treatment of tuberculosis called DOTS (a directly observed treatment of a short course of drugs) that was very effective in combating TB in low-income countries. However, over time, patients began developing resistance to the drugs used for treatment, causing MDR-TB to spread.

Less than one-quarter of those believed to have MDR-TB have been diagnosed, according to the WHO, which facilitates the spreading of this serious form of the disease. “We have managed by a combination of complacency and incompetence to allow this bacillus to mutate to a virtually untreatable form,” wrote Dr. Zarir Udwadia, an Indian world expert on tuberculosis and author of the book Principles of Respiratory Medicine.

Tuberculosis becomes resistant to drugs in patients who don’t complete the treatment. The current treatment for non-resistant tuberculosis is relatively cheap and consists of drugs called first-line drugs for TB. In MDR-TB the patient is resistant to at least the two most powerful anti-TB drugs. This form of the disease is much more costly to treat, and it is also much more toxic (it has more serious side effects), which explains patients’ reluctance to complete the treatment.

China has a large migrant worker population who leave the countryside to join the wage economy in China’s main towns and cities. Many of them practice unprotected sex and contract HIV/AIDS, which weakens their immune system and makes them more susceptible to tuberculosis. In addition, they live in circumstances that facilitate the transmission of the disease and impede their diagnosis and proper treatment.

Many of these migrant workers cannot afford the cost of treatment in the cities and have to return to their place of birth, because subsidized management of tuberculosis (and other kinds of social welfare benefits) is only allowed in those areas where they were registered at birth. Those migrants who were born in rural areas are not allowed to switch registration to become urban residents. Returning home for care is not the ideal solution because the rural health system doesn’t have the same quality as the one in the cities.

Although tuberculosis control has been part of the country’s public health program since the 1950s, it is only after the SARS epidemic in 2003 was effectively controlled that the Chinese government increased its efforts to revitalize its tuberculosis control program. In that regard, increased political commitment to public health as a result of the SARS epidemic benefited tuberculosis control.

In March 2004, the government revised the law on control of infectious diseases providing instructions on how to tackle, improve the reporting and implement interventions aimed at the control of those diseases. This law benefited tuberculosis control by improving the reporting of tuberculosis at health facilities across the country. As a result, tuberculosis must be reported to local public health authorities within 24 hours of detection.

In January 2004, the Ministry of Health implemented the world’s largest internet-based communicable-disease reporting system, which allows tuberculosis patients to be rapidly identified to ensure their proper treatment. In addition, the government started a massive effort to improve public health facilities.

Despite those efforts, however, more needs to be done in terms of training health workers to implement the DOTS, improving the recording and reporting systems and increasing awareness about the dangers of the disease. Also important is to control the increasing numbers of MDR-tuberculosis patients. According to the WHO, China has a third of the world’s number of cases of MDR-TB, even though the country has only 15 percent of the global burden of disease.

To lower the prevalence of tuberculosis, particularly in its resistant forms requires further improvement of the public health system. So far, considerable progress has been achieved. The estimated prevalence rate of tuberculosis per 100,000 people fell from 215 in 1990 to 59 in 2013, and its mortality rate declined steadily at an average rate of 8.6 percent between 1990 and 2010. China now has the opportunity and obligation to continue these remarkable achievements.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail