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TB testing in 2020 fell by 59% amid COVID-19 pandemic —DOH official

The number of tuberculosis (TB) tests dipped by 59% in 2020 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Health official said on Tuesday.

Health Undersecretary Mario Villaverde disclosed the official data during the Senate health committee hearing on the bill amending the Comprehensive Tuberculosis Elimination Plan Act and several bills on the Department of Health’s hospitals.

“If you will look at the data, the number of tested patients for TB talaga pong bumagsak [really dropped],” Villaverde said.

The number of specimens collected in 2018 and 2019 were around 1.16 million and 1 million respectively, he said.

In 2020, however, the number dropped to 556,000, a 59% plunge.

Villaverde said that the major reason for the decrease was the changes in health-seeking behavior of the Filipinos amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Natatakot na magpakonsulta sa mga health facilities, sa mga hospitals, sa mga clinics because of the fear that they might get COVID-19, as well as the mobilization issues. ‘Di agad nakakapunta sa ating mga health centers,” he said.

[They were scared to go to the health facilities, hospitals, and clinics because of the fear that they might get COVID-19 as well, as the mobilization issues. They could not go immediately to the health centers.]

Apart from this, many health workers were deployed to the country’s COVID-19 response.

These are the “major bottlenecks” that the DOH had encountered, he added.

With the country still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, Villaverde said the DOH is implementing a national adaptive plan which he said is a “reformulation of the standard TB program.”

“The objective is to provide specific doable measures and adjustments to ensure the sustainability of our TB programs and be complemented by our COVID-19 response,” he said.

Villaverde added that they are eyeing more telemedicine and tele-consultation as part of their flexible treatment management. This will likewise decongest the health facilities.

For the immunization against TB, the DOH official said the vaccination is still ongoing but he admitted that there are “bottlenecks” as the government is rolling out its COVID-19 inoculation program.

“Medyo nagkaroon lang ng bottleneck kasi nagsisimula din ‘yung vaccination sa ating COVID-19 pero hindi po itinitigil ‘yung vaccination para sa tuberculosis,” he said.

(There were some kind of bottlenecks because the government is also starting the rollout of our COVID-19 vaccination but we have not stopped the vaccination for tuberculosis.)

Once enacted into law, Villaverde said, the measure amending Comprehensive Tuberculosis Elimination Plan Act will require P1.69 billion for the first year of its implementation.

The budget will include first and second line of drugs for adults and for children as well as preventive treatment for adult and pediatric cases. — BM, GMA News