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Korea’s plan to fight TB full of blind spots: experts
  • By Kwak Sung-sun
  • Published 2017.09.19 11:49
  • Updated 2017.09.19 11:49
  • comments 0

To shake off the shameful image of South Korea having the highest incidence rate of tuberculosis among OECD member countries, the government recently unveiled a new plan to prevent TB outbreaks in mass facilities.

However, experts immediately showed negative responses to the plan, criticizing it has too many blind spots.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unveiled “the Second Comprehensive Plan for TB Management” for the period between 2018 and 2022, at a public hearing at Yonsei Foundation’s Severance Building in central Seoul on Monday.

The health authorities aim to lower the incidence rate of TB to 12 patients per 100,000 people by 2025. They are carrying out the first comprehensive plan for the period of 2013-2017. Last year, the government stepped up the first plan by requiring all Koreans to be tested for latent TB at least twice in their lives, at ages 15 and 40.

The second plan aims to lower the incidence rate of TB to 40 patients per 100,000 people by 2022. As of 2015, the rate in Korea marked at 80 patients per 100,000 people, whereas the average rate among OECD members stood at 11.4 patients per 100,000 people. Korea has the highest TB-related figures in both the incidence rate and mortality rate among OECD members.

According to the health authorities, the number of Korean TB patients fell to 39,245 in 2016 from 50,491 in 2011.

However, people over 65 take up 40 percent of total patients. The proportion of the seniors among those who died of TB even rose to 78 percent (1,736 out of 2,209) in 2015 from 58 percent (1,865 out of 3,218) in 2001.

The trend prompted the government to beef up TB prevention for the elderly and senior patients at nursing centers. The government wants to lift up the ratio of the seniors for TB tests to 70 percent by 2022, by raising awareness about TB at welfare centers and senior citizen centers. The government also plans to run moving medical checkups for seniors with mobility problems at nursing centers. Those who were newly admitted to a nursing center will be required to be tested for TB.

The government’s plan includes putting mass facilities at higher risk of TB transmission under management first. The measures also aim to educate medical service providers about TB, support treatment for multiple drug resistance TB, expand investigation on TB contacts, develop and commercialize BCG vaccines, prevent foreign TB outbreaks from affecting Korea and prepare TB management in case of the reunification of the two Koreas.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a public hearing on “The Second Comprehensive Plan for TB Management” at Yonsei Foundation’s Severance Building in central Seoul, Friday.

However, experts expressed negative opinions on the government’s latest plan at the public hearing.

“The government says it will halve the incidence rate by 2022 from the 2015 level, but there is almost no new project in the latest plan. Developing BCG vaccines is new, but it will not help reduce the TB incidence immediately,” said Kim Jae-yeol김재열, a professor at Chung-Ang University Hospital’s respiratory and internal medicine division.

“Up to 40 percent of the TB tested people are already seniors. The proportion cannot be raised drastically. What we need is a new strategy. I doubt that the government will be able to achieve its goal by doing almost the same thing as the first plan.”

Yum Ho-kee염호기, president of the Inje University Seoul Paik Hospital, said the government’s second plan was “nicely embellished.”

“The plan has so many measures, and it looks great. But the plan did not focus on investing in core projects. A state program to fight latent TB should be fully executed, but the limited budget can fund only part of the program,” Yum said.

“The plan excluded medical institutions from the TB prevention program but only included other mass facilities such as daycare centers for children, which are well visible on the outside. This is why we can’t root out TB,” he said, adding that the goal should be fighting TB, not promoting TB prevention programs.

In response to experts’ criticism, Goh Un-yeong고은영, head of the Center for Disease Prevention at KCDC, said the government plan is at a draft stage.

She said the health authorities would reflect their opinions and finalize the plan by the end of this year.

“We will add new perspectives such as doing a project for vulnerable households. We will discuss further with the Ministry of Health and Welfare,” she said.


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