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TB on the rise in Somaliland

27th September 2010

In Somalia's self-declared independent republic of Somaliland, the social custom of khat chewing appears to be linked to a rise in tuberculosis (TB) cases, officials say.

tbpatient

Rising numbers of displaced persons from drought and conflict in the region has also contributed.

The Burao General hospital currently has 130 male TB patients and 30 females, a discrepancy the TB unit director attributed to khat, which is predominantly chewed by men.

Abdijibar Mohamed Abdi said the leaves, which produce mild euphoria and wakefulness, were usually chewed for hours on end at night in poorly ventilated rooms, boosting the spread of TB.

The Burao hospital, which was constructed in 1945 when the region was a British colony, has built two additional TB wards to cope with the rising caseload.

Under the aegis of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the hospital hands out short courses of observed antibiotic treatment to a further 250-300 patients every three months, and has treated 1,200 TB patients in total to date.

Abdi said there was no shortage of drugs, which are sourced from the Global Fund through World Vision International and WHO, with some support from local businesses.

However, nomadic communities in the region lack access to health facilities, and may be poorly educated about the disease, Abdi said.

Drought and conflict in recent years has led to the displacement of large numbers of people, who often do not regard personal health problems as a priority in an emergency situation, and consequently do not seek medical treatment if they have TB.

Burao is located in the Togdheer region of Somaliland, where TB has become a huge health problem, health ministry officials say.

According to health ministry doctor Hussein Mohumed Hog, the management of the disease had been complicated by the failure to pay the salaries of health workers in the past four months.

Hog said the ministry had already received complaints that salaries had not been paid in the wake of recent presidential elections.

He said the ministry was currently processing the payments. It would also reopen most of the mother-child health centres in urban areas in the east of the country, to help follow up on TB cases there.

The Mudug and Bay regions also have high TB infection rates.



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