Tuberculosis in PNG
Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the oldest known diseases. It is a communicable disease caused by bacteria affecting the lungs,
and it spreads from one person to another through the air. Today, the disease has essentially been eradicated in the Western
world. However, it continues to impact millions of people in the developing world. TB is both preventable and curable.
How is it transmitted?
It is estimated that over 90 percent of the population in the developing world carry the TB bacteria. Most of these people do
not catch the disease; their TB is dormant or latent. When the bacteria are dormant the disease cannot spread. However, the
disease can become active in people with weak immune systems, for example those who are sick, malnourished or living with
HIV and AIDS. Once active, the person is contagious and can spread the disease. Left untreated, each person with active
TB will infect, on average, between 10 and 15 people every year.
TB is transmitted when an infectious person coughs, sneezes or spits. This propels the TB germ or bacteria into the air and
it may be inhaled by others. Only a small amount of bacteria needs to be inhaled for a person to catch the disease.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of active TB are coughing, sometimes with blood, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats.
As it is a disease that spreads through the air, TB flourishes in overcrowded areas, with limited sanitation, infrastructure and
ventilation. It is often referred to as a disease of the poor.
What is the prevalence?
TB occurs in every part of the world. However, over 95 percent of TB deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries,
and it is among the top three causes of death for women aged 15 to 44 years. In 2011, the largest number of new TB cases
occurred in Asia, which accounted for 60 percent of new cases (WHO, 2012).
One of the greatest challenges to the global control of TB is the HIV epidemic. In 2011, nine percent of all new TB cases in
adults were due to HIV infection. There were an estimated 1.8 million deaths from TB and 12 percent were due to HIV.
Therefore, prevention of HIV and TB requires a focused effort to control both diseases in areas of high HIV prevalence.
Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is a form of TB present in virtually all countries. This type of TB is caused by the
inappropriate or incorrect use of anti-TB drugs. In 2011, there were an estimated 630,000 people with MDR-TB.
In PNG, TB is particularly prominent, with over 435 in every 100,000 people suffering from the disease. It is one of PNG’s
leading causes of death. Many people believe that TB is caused by sorcery. This means those infected may turn to the local
witchdoctor or sorcerer for help instead of trained health workers. By the time some TB patients arrive at a health clinic,
it’s too late for medical treatment to work. Many people die because of this misinformation.