The Department of Health (DoH) has launched a multi-sectoral action plan to combat tuberculosis with the aim of increasing the number of Filipinos getting treatment for the chronic lung disease.

Called the Philippine Acceleration Action Plan for Tuberculosis (PAAP-TB), it also aims to provide wider access to health services, improving education and public information programs and even social and labor protection, with the goal of eradicating the bacterial disease in 2030.

Acting Health Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said TB remained a pressing concern not just for the health sector but for the country in general, and the Philippines remained far from reaching targets of key indicators in the fight against TB in the country.

The Philippines is among the eight countries in the world that accounts for two-thirds of the estimated global TB cases and is the fourth largest worldwide, 7 percent of which are global.

She also said that for every 100,000 Filipinos, there are 650 others that were infected with TB in 2021, up from 554 individuals per 100,000 from the previous year.

“The Covid-19 pandemic further exacerbated barriers to access. Because of nationwide lockdowns, access to TB-DOTS (Directly-Observed Treatment, Short Course) centers were affected. Furthermore, as local government units were heavily occupied with responding to the Covid-19 situation, our implementation of TB services was also affected,” Vergeire said during the program’s launch in Pasay City on Friday, World Tuberculosis Day.

She also said that the National Capital Region was the only region that has reached its target treatment enrollment, followed by Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), Central Luzon, and Western Visayas, while the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Cordillera Administrative Region lagged in TB treatment enrollment.

Vergeire stressed that poor patients that are afflicted with TB will be driven further into poverty and thus should be addressed by not only improving health services, but also improving the living conditions of Filipinos.

She said that the creation of a long-term action plan for TB will enable continuous investment for the eradication of the disease, while also conducting periodic recalibration of specific milestones and plans.

Among the plans in the PAAP-TB include the promotion of healthy settings among workplaces, communities and schools, the integration of TB-DOTS packages in the Konsulta package of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., and the creation of additional primary care facilities under the Philippine Health Facility Development Plan.

Vergeire also said that the government will establish 17 lung specialty centers, increasing TB detection through the use of its increased GeneXpert testing capacity which was used primarily to test Covid-19, as well as massive screening of asymptomatic cases and access to TB diagnostic tests.

In a media briefing, Vergeire said that it will also increase the vaccination of children against tuberculosis, especially with the number of children getting vaccinated for TB remaining stable at 61 percent, a far cry from the 95 percent target set by the DoH.