Private hospitals to the rescue of TB patients

KABUL, 5 May 2010 (IRIN) - Eight private hospitals will soon provide free tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis and treatment in Kabul in an effort to curb the disease which kills thousands of people every year in Afghanistan, according to the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).

About 70 private hospitals operate in Kabul, but none offer TB diagnosis and treatment services, officials say.

Under an agreement backed by the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the eight private hospitals will receive laboratory kits and medicines from the MoPH to serve TB patients. Training has also been provided by the National TB Control Programme (NTCP) to ensure accurate diagnosis and treatment.

“Undoubtedly a lot of TB patients go to private hospitals where we want them to have access to services as in government hospitals,” Khaled Siddiq, director of the NTCP, told IRIN.

Thirty TB treatment centres are serving Kabul’s estimated four million citizens and over 1,850 TB patients sought treatment there in 2009, Siddiq said.

MoPH officials said the current pilot project is expected to be extended to almost all private hospitals across the country provided the outcomes are positive.

Private health sector

Muhammad Hashim Wahaaj, director of a private hospital in Kabul, said middle-class Afghans are increasingly seeking health services at commercial hospitals because they can get better quality treatment there.

Healthcare professionals earn more in private hospitals than in state hospitals, where doctors are paid US$60-120 a month.

In addition to brain-drain problems, state-run hospitals, which offer free services, are usually packed with people who cannot afford private treatment.

“Delivering TB diagnosis and treatment services free of charge will have two benefits for us: we fulfil our national and religious commitment in terms of fighting a national disease; and when TB patients receive satisfactory services in private hospitals this is great marketing for us,” Wahaaj told IRIN.

Commercial healthcare is a new and booming business in Afghanistan which has some of the worst health indicators in the world, according to aid agencies.

However, there have been complaints about standards in private hospitals.

“They just rob people and no one is there to stop them,” alleged Haroun Waffa, a paediatrician.

Over the past few years the MoPH and donors have preferred partnering with NGOs to extend basic health services to over 80 percent of the country.

The MoPH said it would monitor the quality of TB services at the eight private hospitals.

Women hit hardest

Afghanistan, where about 9,000 people die from TB every year, is among the 22 worst affected countries in the world, according to WHO and MoPH.

About 64 percent (33,000) of the total 51,000 TB cases reported in 2009 were women, who are believed to be particularly vulnerable to the highly contagious disease.

Endemic poverty, food insecurity, poor diagnosis and treatment, and low public awareness are the major factors contributing to TB in the war-ravaged country, experts say.

Backed by donors, Afghanistan has increased its Directly Observed Therapy centres from 10 in 2000 to over 1,000 in 2009, and this has enhanced TB diagnosis and treatment capacity, according to the MoPH.

The introduction of TB services at private hospitals will strengthen efforts to curb the disease but it will not be eradicated unless other socio-economic problems associated with the disease are not addressed effectively, experts said.  

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

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