Rise in worldwide cases of TB is also affecting Greece

In Greece today there are about seven new cases of tuberculosis reported for every 100,000 people, that is about 700 incidences (Greeks and foreigners) annually, but experts believe that the true number is much larger. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the actual number of TB patients in Greece is double that figure – about 19 cases for every 100,000 people. Despite scientific progress in both the diagnosis and effective treatment of tuberculosis, the disease is returning with a vengeance on a global level, a situation that John F. Murray of the International Union against Tuberculosis says is a «political scandal.» The movements of large population groups, such as immigrants and refugees, from one country to another is one of the main reasons the disease has reappeared in a particularly resistant form after almost disappearing by the early 1990s. The rising number of cases in both developed and developing countries bodes ill for the future. If the disease is not dealt with in the next 20 years, nearly a billion people will be infected and 35 million will die. «No one is safe unless everyone is safe,» says WHO in its global effort to root out the disease. In Greece, the Center for Infectious Diseases Control (KEEL) has drafted a national inspection program for tuberculosis through the Health Ministry. «According to WHO, Greece is obliged to implement a program aimed at reducing the incidence of and deaths by tuberculosis by half by 2015 and wipe it out altogether by 2050,» explained Stavros Constantopoulos, the head of KEEL’s Tuberculosis Committee and a professor of pulmonology at Ioannina University. According to Constantopoulos, the biggest problem is in reporting new cases. The program will focus on searching out actual cases through hospital and pharmacy records of prescriptions, particularly for the new resistant strains of the disease. «If the correct treatment is not carried out, then we will find ourselves in the same position as many countries in Eastern Europe, where there are large numbers of cases with the resistant strain, which, if not treated properly, has the possibility of becomeing so resistant as to be incurable,» he added. The program also aims to bring laws up to date, such as making it compulsory for TB patients to be hospitalized, providing free medication as well as a ban on deporting illegal immigrants found to have the disease. The committee would like to have special TB clinics around the country where these do not already exist or to incorporate them into lung disease clinics, and to link these online with each other and the prefectural public health authorities. An example to be avoided is what happened in New York City during the 1980s, when TB clinics were closed, pointed out Constantopoulos. The closure resulted in a large increase in the number of cases, chiefly among the homeless and immigrants. Each new case then cost as much as the entire prevention program. «Treating tuberculosis, according to the WHO, is a question of social justice and human rights. We know how to prevent it and to cure it. What is missing are the funds and organization,» he added.

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