March 24, 2020, Manila --- Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III today urged Filipinos undergoing treatment for active tuberculosis (TB) disease to get their free medicines, good for one month, instead of going to the health facility for their daily dose of TB medicines.
The move is in light of the enhanced community quarantine enforced in Luzon and other parts of the country because of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
DOH issued a Department Memorandum mandating health workers in government TB clinics to allow “enrolled patients to take home one-month supply of anti-TB medications.” Since the start of 2020, about 37,500 patients have started their treatment regimen. In 2019, close to 330,000 Filipinos were enrolled for TB treatment.
TB services will continue during the COVID-19 quarantine but interaction between health worker and patient will be limited as a practice of social distancing. (Santos/USAID/2019)
“Those with TB are at higher risk of getting COVID-19. We are rolling out measures for their uninterrupted regimen,” said Secretary Duque. Old age, malnutrition, heavy smoking, weak immune system, being a person living with human immunodeficiency virus (PLHIV), and chronic conditions like diabetes and renal disease increase the risk for people to become vulnerable to both COVID-19 and TB.
“In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we should not lose sight of other infectious and pandemic diseases, especially TB,” said Secretary Duque. He added that when an individual who goes to a health facility for respiratory symptoms and has any of the risk factors but tests negative for COVID-19, he or she should be considered presumptive for TB.
A TB patient requires a daily treatment regimen that lasts for six to nine months. Patients are encouraged to go to TB clinics to take their medicines, under the care of a designated health worker.
“To protect our health workers and TB patients from COVID-19 infection, we will enforce a home-based strategy in which a family member will support the patient in taking his or her medicines,” said Secretary Duque, adding that patients should immediately inform their health care providers for any adverse side effects.
The DOH pronouncement was timely for the observance of the World TB Day on March 24. To observe World TB Day, DOH and partners like the Philippine Coalition Against Tuberculosis (PhilCAT), Global Fund against TB, World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) also launched a new communication campaign to combat the disease dubbed #TBFreePH.
The #TBFreePH campaign aims to increase conversations about TB and promote measures to eliminate the TB burden by 2035. The end goal is to reduce TB deaths by 15% from an estimated 26,000 in 2018 to 22,000 in 2023. USAID supports the Philippine government’s fight against TB through technical assistance worth over $50 million from 2018 to 2023. Last year, USAID helped DOH treat more than 360,000 people with TB.
“We salute our health workers who have gone more than the extra mile during this challenging period,” Duque said, recognizing the efforts of public and private health service providers for continuous health services, promotion and education.
Preventive measures against TB are similar to those recommended to halt the spread of COVID-19, including cough manners, hand hygiene, and infection control at home and workplaces.
TB kills more people globally than other infectious diseases like acute immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), measles, and COVID-19.