World TB Day 2016: Malta is a low TB incidence country

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World TB Day 2016: Malta is a low TB incidence countryUnite to End TB is the theme chosen for World TB day 2016 by the World Health Organisation.

World Tuberculosis Day is held each year on the 24th of March, which is the date when, in 1882, Robert Koch astounded the scientific community by announcing his discovery of the cause of tuberculosis (TB), the TB bacillus.

The overall goal of this day is to build public awareness about the burden of TB worldwide and the status of TB prevention and control efforts. This day gives us the perfect opportunity to stop and think about where we are in the fight against TB.

In a statement today, the Parliamentary Secretariat for Health, said that Malta is a low TB incidence country, with an average notification rate of 7.6 per 100,000 population, ranging from 1.8 to 12.8 per 100,000 over the period 2002-2015.

It said that like other Western European countries, TB notification and incidence rates in Malta have decreased steadily among those born in Malta in recent decades. In the local population it occurs mostly in the elderly, mainly due to reactivation of old TB.

Various systems are in place to prevent and control TB in Malta, as outlined in the National TB Strategy. The Secretariat said that these include:

• Provision of TB treatment free of charge to all individuals with active and latent TB;

• Supervision of treatment by trained care workers to make sure that the treatment is taken properly and completed-this is called directly observed therapy (DOT);

• Follow-up of TB patients by infectious disease/TB specialists throughout the course of the treatment;

• Screening of new entrants from high TB endemic countries;

• Screening of people working/living in high risk environments;

• Contact tracing and investigation of TB cases, for the early identification of other possible related cases, to prevent transmission to the community;

• BCG vaccination in high risk children.

To mark World TB day 2016, Malta organised a seminar aimed at increasing awareness of TB among healthcare professionals. The theme of the seminar was "Towards Tuberculosis Elimination."

Worldwide, TB causes the death of nearly one-and-a-half million people each year, mostly in developing countries. Despite being a curable disease, TB is the world's most deadly infectious disease, and still kills 3 people every minute. It kills more people annually than AIDS or malaria. TB does not discriminate-it is transmitted by air and can affect anyone.

In 2014, 340,000 Europeans developed tuberculosis, a rate of 37 cases per 100 000 population. In EU/EEA countries, the number of new TB cases is only decreasing slowly by around 5% each year.

This is because of the high rates of multidrug-resistant TB and TB affecting vulnerable populations across Europe (such as the homeless, drug and alcohol abusers, and migrants from high TB incidence countries), which continue to complicate the elimination of TB.

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