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Mar 24, 2017

The Fight to End Tuberculosis in Belize

It’s World Tuberculosis Day around the world – it is a day designed to build public awareness that tuberculosis remains an epidemic in much of the world, causing the deaths of over one point five million people each year, mostly in developing countries.  So, this year countries globally are raising awareness through the slogan “Unite to end TB: Leave no one behind,” which seeks to promote access to quality health care for people with TB.  Locally, the day was observed by a number of activities across the country.  News Five’s Andrea Polanco stopped in at Cleopatra White Clinic here in the City to find out how TB affects us locally in Belize.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Tuberculosis is a preventable and curable disease – yet some two hundred and seventy thousand people in the Americas contracted this disease in 2015 – and some fifty thousand don’t even know they have it yet. It is the world’s top infectious disease killer. Here in Belize, TB is listed as one of the leading causes of deaths among HIV positive persons in 2015 – accounting for thirty-five percent of those deaths. Even as a global epidemic, particularly in developing countries, there are still misconceptions surrounding this disease,  and so today isa day is set aside to raise awareness and call for action to end TB around the world.


Kevin Mendez

Kevin Mendez, HIV-TB Adherence Counselor, MOH

“Some of the common myths would be that people think that if once you have Tuberculosis you are gonna die; and also that you can easily transmit Tuberculosis by patting someone on the back; that if you have Tuberculosis you should quarantine the individual. So, stuff like that you would normally be hearing in the community; however, like I said earlier, our role is to clarify those myths – demystify Tuberculosis and so we are increasing our awareness to tell people that if you have Tuberculosis you can get screened and you get treatment and get cured.”


Poverty, malnutrition, poor housing and sanitation, compounded by other risk factors such as HIV, tobacco, alcohol use and diabetes, can put people at heightened risk of TB. According to the Ministry of the Health, groups most vulnerable to TB also include children and the elderly due to a weaker immune system – but in the most recent screenings, a large number were men.  The Ministry’s records show that two hundred and sixteen new TB cases were diagnosed in 2016 and thirty six of those were diagnosed in HIV positive persons.  Last year also recorded twenty deaths from those newly diagnosed.


Kevin Mendez

“The Ministry of Health did about six hundred and thirty eight screening of tuberculosis, out of those one hundred and twenty were confirmed cases of HIV – most of them being pulmonary tuberculosis. Like you said earlier, we did have some deaths of Tuberculosis and we also have about more than fifty percent of those persons currently on treatment. Most of these deaths indeed are HIV/TV co-infections because one in every three persons who has HIV tends to develop Tuberculosis. Which is why it is very important for persons living with HIV to get screened for Tuberculosis and if they have the presence of the virus in their system to start prophylaxis treatment which gets rid of the bacteria and prevents them from developing tuberculosis later on. Also, not only HIV, but Diabetes is another chronic disease that can increase the prevalence of people developing active Tuberculosis.”


TB is an illness caused by bacteria – first it is latent or ‘asleep’ – where just the presence of the bacteria is in the system, but then it later becomes active as the disease for different reasons. So, when this happens it is important to pay attention to symptoms, get tested and take the treatment. In Belize, testing and treatment are available at just about every health facility – and it is free of cost.


Kevin Mendez

“There is a latent infection and an active disease. So, whenever someone has the latent TB infection, it means that they have the bacteria in their system but their immune system is healthy that it is keeping the bacteria controlled. So, let’s say somebody develops Diabetes or contracts HIV, thenthey would start developing the active disease. So, when that happens they start developing a cough for two weeks or more, sometimes there is the presence of blood within the phlegm; they have fever; evening sweats; weight loss; loss of appetite – these are the symptoms we would look for.   If you have latent TB, which means you only have the presence of the bacteria in the system, and not the disease, then you will start to take Prophylaxis which is preventative therapy – so this lasts for six months. Now, if you have the active disease, and you are not somebody infected with HIV, your treatment will last for six months and if you are somebody with HIV then your treatment goes for eighteen months and the reason for that is because you get seven months of therapy which actually gets rid of the bacteria and then you take the additional months as preventative therapy for you to prevent from becoming re-infected with Tuberculosis. Because it does not mean that you get Tuberculosis now and you get cured, that you will never catch it again. There is still the risk if you get exposure to it that you might develop TB later on in your life.”


Just as TB is curable, it is preventable. But because of ease of transmission it continues to be a major health concern for Belize and across the world where it claims five thousand lives every day.


Kevin Mendez

“Keep a healthy immune system -eat healthy, exercise, manage stress.Keep a healthy immune system. There are basic coughing technique you can do if you will sneeze or cough do it in your sleeve of your shirt. If you do it in your hands, use hand sanitizer, there is mask you can use prevent you from sneezing or coughing into the environment and if you come to the health care facility they give you mask as well which prevents you from putting other people at risk.”


Andrea Polanco

“How serious is the picture of TB here in Belize; is it of concern to the Ministry of Health?”


Kevin Mendez

“Yes, TB is a public health concern globally because TB claims about five thousand lives daily across the world. Last year we might just get one hundred and twenty cases diagnosed, but theoretically one individual has about ten contacts so, if you do one hundred and twenty times ten for the contacts you are putting a lot of people at risk and because of the ease of the transmission of the bacteria – then it is a concern in Belize.”


Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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