Secretary of Health Francisco T. Duque III in celebration of World Tuberculosis (TB) Dayexpressed that despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in the continuum of healthcare, the Department of Health (DOH) reported an 18% increase in tuberculosis treatment rate among diagnosed Filipinos in 2021 compared to 2020.

The Department reported 311,000 TB cases in 2021 compared to 263,000 cases in 2020, based on the national TB registry. Moreover, the country saw the second-largest decrease of annual notifications between 2019 and 2020 with a 37% drop due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the heightening of restrictions. The DOH added that as the country ushers into the ‘new normal’ and restrictions continue to ease, it hopes to further improve TB detection and treatment strategies.

“The increase in treatment signifies our efforts to bring TB care back. Moving forward, we must intensify TB prevention and control efforts as part of the integrated delivery of health services. Let us now focus on the main agenda that the treatment for tuberculosis is now within reach. The Department, with the help of all stakeholders, aims to launch renewed efforts to integrate holistic health services and advocate for a TB Free Philippines,” underscored Secretary Duque.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Philippines is one of the 16 countries where essential TB-related services were seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, provision of services reportedly fell, comparable with the level recorded globally in 2012, with Philippines, India, and Indonesia being the most affected.

“The world has experienced the immediate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on health services. However, working to reverse COVID-19’s consequences on TB and other priority diseases can take years. Thus, governments worldwide, including the Philippines, must seize this opportunity to adopt better strategies to fight TB, invest more in it, and above all, build resilient systems for integrated efforts towards universal health care,” said Dr. Rajendra Yadav, Acting WHO Representative to the Philippines, on reversing the TB trend.

On March 24, the DOH joined the rest of the world in observing World TB Day. This year’s theme is “Invest to End TB. Save Lives.” The DOH, through the generous assistance of the WHO, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Philippine Coalition Against Tuberculosis, recognized top-performing local government units by conferring the Race to End TB Awards. This award highlights the significant contribution of local funding in achieving annual targets of the TB program.

The LGUs of San Juan City and the provinces of Quirino, Aparri, Abra, Ifugao, San Juan City, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Agusan del Norte received the gold citation for continued local investment to treat drug-resistant tuberculosis (DRTB). Common to these LGU are strategies to find more cases by bringing mobile chest X-ray vans to barangays and screening people who are more likely to be at risk of TB.

It is important to note nonetheless that in 2021, the WHO stated that 52% still remains to be unfunded from the $314 million funding requirement needed to achieve the goal of TB eradication in the Philippines. Hence, the DOH continues to call on partners from the public and private sector to amplify and integrate research and development efforts for testing and validating new diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines in the fight against TB.

“We are one with you in sounding the alarm that we cannot win the fight against TB without adequate financial resources and political will. USAID is one with you in advocating for urgent investments to decision-makers at the global, national, local government units and private sector,” said Ryan Washburn, mission director of the USAID.

“True to the theme of this year’s World Tuberculosis Day, we recognize that investing to end TB is firstly financial. Nonetheless, investing hard work, emotion, energy, and perseverance are equally as essential as the financial assets needed to end this preventable and curable disease. This year’s theme centers on saving lives which is our core and common goal for our investments. We should continue to communicate to our partners in both the public and private sectors the need to invest resources to fight TB,” stated Undersecretary of Health Dr. Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire.