Today is World Tuberculosis Day — an important reminder for people everywhere, and for people in Indonesia in particular.
According to the World Health Organization, 8.6 million people fell ill with tuberculosis in 2012 and 1.3 million died from it, mostly in low- and middle-income countries.
The current rate of active infections in Indonesia is 185 per 100,000 people, with this number being exponentially higher among the prison population.
There is still a very long way to go for Indonesia to rid itself of tuberculosis, a curable but deadly disease. One of the main problems is reaching all those infected and getting these people to undergo the right treatment. Treatment itself is often a long, difficult and expensive process, especially in the case of multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis or extensive drug-resistant tuberculosis.
There are 456,000 new tuberculosis cases in Indonesia annually, according to the WHO, and an estimated 7,000 Indonesians are suffering from multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis, of which only some 1,000 patients are undergoing treatment currently, the Health Ministry says.
The government is implementing a number of programs to bring down the number of infections, which is especially challenging in our chronically overcrowded prisons. But more should be done.
As Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the WHO director for Southeast Asia, says: “Drugs alone cannot beat tuberculosis in the community. The disease is a condition strongly influenced by low nutrition, poverty, social stigma, environment, rapid urbanization, and large population displacement.”
These are all factors that make Indonesia particularly vulnerable. They show that urgent, coordinated action is needed in the fight, and that the government can use all the help it can get.