UNDP helps Syria achieve tuberculosis breakthrough

09 Mar 2011

TB patient receiving daily treatment at TB centre
in Bab Mousalla, Damascus

(Photo: Ingrida Kerusauskaite)
Support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has increased success in target areas of a programme by the Government of Syria to bring down national TB infection rates.

The rate of nationwide TB prevalence dropped by nearly two thirds - from 18 to 6.7 cases per 100,000 people - between 2005 and 2008. During the same period, TB detection rates rose from 42 to 79 percent. In 2010, 4,200 patients diagnosed with TB were treated under the joint programme.

“Dramatic improvements in TB detection, diagnosis and treatment are a major step forward in raising health and well-being in Syria,” said Dr. Ghassan Shannan, UNDP National Programme Manager for TB. “Working with the Global Fund and the Government, these achievements help put Syria on track to meet the global goal to reverse TB incidence by 2015.”

While only 5 to 10 percent of those infected go on to develop full-blown TB, carriers of the dormant bacteria can pass on the disease to an average of between 10 and 15 people a year by coughing out infected sputum.

Partners in the US$8 million joint project – including government ministries, associations of journalists, medical specialists and other UN and Red Crescent agencies - focussed their efforts on raising awareness among at-risk individuals and families.

They conducted online and offline information sessions for the general public and professionals at schools and in public and private clinics in the country’s northeast, central and coastal areas.

In these target areas, the project also helped to renovate more than 50 diagnostic laboratories and installed equipment, such as incubator shakers and water distillation tools, to ensure accurate and efficient response for patients.

While treatment for carriers without symptoms generally costs less than US$20 for a course of up to nine months, those in acute stages can suffer life-threatening damage to vital organs and incur treatment costs that devastate poor households.

Among the 4,200 patients treated under the programme in 2010 were a minority with TB strains that have developed resistance to traditional drugs and are more expensive to treat.

One of the centres renovated under the programme, in Homs, north of the capital Damascus, specializes in multi-drug resistant TB strains and offers financial support during treatment which can last for two years.

“Most people have heard about the most dangerous kind of TB,” said Mazen, a 26-year-old electronic engineer who was diagnosed with cervical lymph-node TB last year.

“My TB has no affect whatsoever on my daily life and is not contagious,” he says, “but I immediately started to follow the treatment and in two months I will be completely cured.”