Cambodia: Funding the fight against tuberculosis

Progress in Cambodia in reducing deaths from tuberculosis could be short-lived as future funding could be in doubt.

Soth Srey Touch’s sister died two months ago from a disease that antibiotics could have treated.

Her sister was 43 years old when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, but it was just too late.

“She was told that she had tuberculosis, but she was already too sick,” Srey Touch, a resident of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, told Al Jazeera.

TB is treatable with antibiotics, but poor access to healthcare means many in Cambodia are, like Srey Touch’s sister, still victims of a preventable death.

Decades of civil war left Cambodia’s medical infrastructure in tatters and this country of some 15 million people has one of the highest rates of TB worldwide.

But years of effort have resulted in the number of people dying from the disease dropping by 67 percent in Cambodia, Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from  Phnom Penh, said.

“Cambodia still has one of the highest rates of tuberculosis infection in the world, but the statistics are heading in the right direction quickly,” he said.

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In Cambodia, the battle against the disease is fought not in hospitals, but in communities across the country where government health workers and NGO volunteers go door to door in the most at-risk neighbourhoods.

Raising awareness about the disease, the health workers make sure that suspected cases are screened and that patients who are being treated take their course of medication each day until they are TB-free.

“Accessibility needs to continue to be improved, especially in areas where they live very far from the health centres,” said Jacqueline Chen, who works with Operation Asha, an Indian NGO focused on eradicating the disease.

It is in those more remote areas that awarness about TB is “not so strong”, Chen said.

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Thanks to money from aid groups, including the Global Fund, and other donors, the government has worked with NGOs to rebuild and decentralise healthcare, and there are now 1,300 community health centres that provide free TB screening and treatment.

So far the Global Fund – which provides funds to fight Aids, TB and malaria worldwide – has spent more than $40m fighting TB in Cambodia.

But because of Cambodia’s relative economic success and development, international aid funds are now leaving and going to other, poorer, countries.

Some fear that a reduction in funding to fight the disease will see a return TB levels of the past.

“While Cambodia has done a good job so for of combating the disease, there is a concern that without continued funding, much of the good work could be undone,” Al Jazeera’s Hay said. 

Source: Al Jazeera