Tuberculosis: US to extend help to Tibetans

Studies show the Tibetans have one of the highest rates of TB in the world. Even the deadly multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB is increasingly common. Now the US is coming to help the Tibetans, who have been in exile in India for over half a century.

The US Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Sarah Sewall is travelling Nov 15 to this northern Indian hill town, where the Dalai Lama lives, to discuss Tibetan refugee issues.

"She will announce a new award of $3.2 million for a Tibetan health system strengthening project to universalize access to quality health services, and especially to end preventable child and maternal deaths, and create tuberculosis-free communities, for Tibetan refugee communities in India and Nepal," a US embassy release said.

Officials of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) told IANS that Delek Hospital, founded in 1971 by the CTA here, has an excellent cure rate for TB but it lacks mechanism to test close contacts and relatives of the patients. It also has a GeneXpert machine for quick diagnosis of suspected TB cases.

According to hospital data, 202 Tibetans were detected with TB in 2012, and the figure rose to 228 the next year. So far, there are reports of 150 Tibetans suffering from TB this year in the hospital with eight MDR TB patients.

They blame malnutrition and over-crowding in monasteries and schools for spread of the air-borne disease, especially from thousands of new refugees that reach India every year from their homeland Tibet.

A CTA study found that incidence rates of TB among monastery monks were higher than in the settlements.

A book, ‘Doctor in Little Lhasa: One Year in Dharamsala with the Tibetans in Exile’ penned by M.D. Timothy H. Holtz, said: "In the Tibetan community, TB was a killer."

It said the region’s (Dharamsala) TB incidence (new cases per year) was about 65 times higher than in the US and twice the rate of TB in India and China.

In the US, roughly one person out of every 20,000 people is diagnosed with TB each year. In Dharamsala, the figure is one out of every 300, an extremely high rate for a disease that is treatable and curable in over 95 percent of cases.

Dharamsala and its nearby areas support 16,000-18,000 exiled Tibetans, while over 100,000 have been living in exile in India.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), quoting a study conducted in 2007, says rates of TB among Tibetan refugees in Himachal Pradesh are estimated to between 400 and 800 per 100,000 people, with MDR TB present in 8-10 percent of patients.

Over half of the TB cases were students, monks and nuns and 75 percent were less than 30 years old, it said.

Since Sep 2011, the Johns Hopkins University Center for TB Research has partnered with the Tibetan department of health and Tibetan TB programme to implement a TB Reach project in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.

Surveys by the Indian union health ministry say national TB prevalence is about 168 cases per 100,000 Indians, while the exiled Tibetans have a rate of nearly 500 per 100,000 people.

Source: MF Monitor

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Published: Nov. 15, 2014, 10:43 p.m.

Last updated: Nov. 16, 2014, 2:47 a.m.

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