Over 7,000 people in Majuro are at high risk of getting sick with tuberculosis (TB) in the future — that is one in every four people living in the capital atoll.
This alarming statistic, provided with much evidence from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), weighed heavily in the air during the launch of Majuro’s very first TB and leprosy mass screening program that took place Monday at the capital meto courtyard. Dr. Richard Brostrom, CDC Senior Advisor, stated with full confidence, “There are too many cases of TB in the Marshall Islands, and we can do something about that.”
He added: “This is not a surveillance project. Working with the hospital and public health staff, we are not here to count, we are here to cure.”
Of all the countries in the world, the Marshall Islands ranks in the top 10 most prevalent in TB, and top three for leprosy. In 2013, the RMI was the second most TB-affected country — this year it is number 11, which shows that we really can do something about it. While TB is the most infectious disease worldwide, it is curable.
Latent TB, or “sleeping” TB, that makes a person non-infectious at first so that they do not experience symptoms, is a cause of great concern alongside active TB. The figures show that 7,000 people have latent TB in Majuro out of an estimated population of 28,000. But the good news is that there is a test for it and the sooner one gets tested, the sooner treatment can be provided to eliminate the risk of spreading the disease to family members and others.
Factors such as diabetes, tobacco, alcohol, and age all can contribute to “waking up” latent TB, increasing the chance that a person who is positive will see it turn into active TB disease. But getting early treatment can halt this process.
Following an expressive parade featuring TB and leprosy-free posters, Majuro Mayor Ladie Jack opened the launch ceremony with promise of the local government’s “full support,” and Minister Kalani Kaneko assured everyone that the Ministry of Health and Human Services (MoHHS) along with the CDC and WHO will provide free screening and treatment. “We will find a way,” Kaneko promised to those who will test positive and require further, possibly unaffordable treatment.
Last year a similar screening cut the TB rate by half in Ebeye. While Ebeye’s screening process was a significant success, it was difficult to bring in one particular group: men over the age of 40. As Father’s Day is around the corner the MoHHS, CDC, and WHO urged the people to present their fathers with a healthful gift: free screening and free medication.
Over the next four months, these health organizations along with the help of volunteer staff from the US mainland aim to see up to 150 people daily — but the first day, Tuesday, saw 180 people from Alwal wato turn out to be screened at Rita Elementary School.
The three things asked of the public are patience, getting tested when your time comes, and promising to take all the medicine given if you your test is positive. The fight against these diseases in Majuro has begun, and it will be battled “slowly but surely” from Rita to Laura.
Read more about this in the June 15, 2018 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.