ISLAMABAD - A new survey has estimated that out of every 100,000 people in Pakistan 348 are suffering from tuberculosis.

In recognition of World Tuberculosis Day, Nancy Estes, acting mission director United States Agency for International Development (USAID), presented the 2010-11 Pakistan Tuberculosis Prevalence Survey in an event at the Pakistan National Council of Arts. This has been the first survey of its kind since 1987.

Tuberculosis is a disease that usually infects the lungs, and is spread from person to person through the air. This newest survey estimates TB is present in 348 out of 100,000 people and the rate is double if compared with 1987 data. Estes said, "TB prevalence at this level signifies that we must double our efforts to effectively combat TB in Pakistan."

Saira Afzal Tarar, minister of national health services, regulation and coordination, received the report from Estes and said, "World TB Day underscores the world's commitment to control and eradicate the disease. Pakistan and the international community must work together to fight TB, if we want to eradicate it."

She regretted that Pakistan has the 5th highest incidence of TB in the world, which remains a cause for serious concern. "The key to controlling TB is to raise awareness about its symptoms and encourage patients to seek treatment which is available free of cost. It must be ensured that patients follow the full course of medication for the prescribed period," she said. TB carries social stigma, which is a major obstacle to treatment, she said. In this regard public education and building awareness can help prevent spread of the disease, she added.

She further added the government was making concerted efforts to control TB in Pakistan. "More than 1.5 million TB patients have been diagnosed and treated free of cost with quality assured anti-TB drugs in both public and private sector across the country through a network of 1,500 quality assured microscopy centres and 4000 treatment centres. This network is expanding gradually to ensure accessibility of TB care services to every TB patient in Pakistan."

She said that multi drug resistant TB was also a major challenge and the government was providing specialised treatment to over 3,140 such patients at 18 treatment centres across Pakistan. "I wish to highlight here that success rate of such treatment is very high due to top quality care and treatment provided to these patients," she said.

The governments of Pakistan and the United States, World Health Organisation, Global Fund and others financially support Pakistan's national tuberculosis eradication programme. Through this partnership, 1,500 laboratories and 5,000 treatment sites providing free diagnosis and treatment services have been established in Pakistan.