Cyprus Mail

Urgent overhaul needed to fight spiralling TB

WITH tuberculosis cases on the rise, treatment facilities are in need of an urgent overhaul if the spread of the potentially deadly disease is to be contained, lawmakers heard yesterday.

In parliament yesterday, health officials said the incidence of TB cases has doubled over the past ten years, advising MPs that current treatment facilities are sorely inadequate.

In 2012 there were 69 active patients, of whom 18 Cypriot and 51 foreign nationals, compared to 54 cases in 2011 (9 Cypriots and 45 foreigners). In 2004, there were 30 patients, of whom 18 foreign nationals.

Currently, all active TB patients are sent to Kyperounda hospital. But the hospital has a capacity of just 12 beds.

Patients at Kyperounda must share rooms, which raises the risk of in-house contamination. The facility moreover lacks negative-pressure rooms. Negative room pressure is an isolation technique used in hospitals and medical centres to prevent cross-contaminations from room to room.

And, inadequate treatment aside, the asbestos roof of the hospital at Kyperounda is dilapidated, MPs heard.

Health officials advised that the premises of a nursing school be transformed into a dedicated sanatorium for TB patients with a capacity for 22 beds.

The creation of such an infirmary – with individual, negative-pressure rooms for patients – would cost around €1m. Legislators pledged to pressure the government into making the necessary funds available.

“We have the medical staff, but we lack the space,” AKEL MP Adamos Adamou told reporters.

It is the drug-resistant strains of the disease that are the major concern, he added.

According to the World Health Organisation, TB infected 8.7 million people worldwide in 2011 and killed 1.4 million. As many as 2 million people may have drug-resistant strains by 2015, the Geneva-based health agency says. Treating even typical TB is a long process. Patients need to take a cocktail of antibiotics for six months and many fail to complete the treatment.

That, alongside overuse and misuse of antibiotics, has fuelled the emergence of drug-resistant strains.

Although TB may be latent and not progress to an active disease, it can be deadly if it becomes active.

It can be spread through coughing and sneezing of active TB sufferers.

Recent research has shown that the average cost of treating a patient with TB in Cyprus is well over the EU average.

The same study warned that Europe could face a multi-billion-euro time bomb of rising costs to control the disease as drug-resistant forms of the lung disease spread. New drugs and vaccines are very expensive to develop.

The majority of active TB patients in Cyprus are foreign nationals, with immigrants – legal and illegal- hailing from countries with a high TB incidence having “the potential to spread the disease in the host country,” a 2009 study into TB said.

According to DIKO MP Athena Kyriakidou, the majority of the TB patients here are Europeans, and most of these are Rumanian nationals.

Kyriakidou was yesterday quoted as suggesting the deportation of European nationals with TB as an extraordinary measure to protect public health.

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