SEOUL, Oct. 6 (Korea Bizwire) –After 11 years of decreasing, the number of TB (tuberculosis) cases is now going up. This is happening because people are interacting more with each other as the COVID-19 pandemic gets better.
For the past 11 years, the number of TB cases has been going down. It was decreasing by about 7.9 percent every year from 2011 until last year. This was thanks to the government’s national TB control program. However, the current trend suggests that this year, we might see more cases than before.
Despite Korea having the highest TB rate among OECD countries for 26 years, next year’s budget for TB is going down by almost 25 percent. This is expected to cause some disagreement.
Especially concerning is the increase in TB cases among the elderly. Health officials are encouraging older people to use the free yearly checkups provided by public health centers across the country.
According to a report from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the number of TB patients this year was 15,451, slightly higher than last year’s 15,432.
Looking at the age groups, the number of patients in their 60s increased by 6.9 percent from 2,899 last year to 3,999 this year. The number of patients in their 80s and older went up by 7.8 percent from 3,946 to 4,255. Elderly patients aged 65 and older increased by 5.1 percent, from 8,520 to 8,950.
During the same period, the number of foreign TB patients in Korea went up by 6.8 percent, from 815 last year to 870 this year.
The KDCA explained that the increase in foreign residents in Korea and more gatherings of people aged 65 and older, along with the end of COVID-19 prevention measures like mask-wearing, are causing the rise in TB cases this year.
Dr. Ji Young-mi, the head of the KDCA, said, “Korea has the highest TB rate among OECD countries. If you have symptoms like cough and night sweats for more than two weeks after the Chuseok holiday when many families come together, you should definitely get checked.”
However, it remains to be seen how the budget cuts will affect the increasing number of TB cases. According to KDCA data, the budget for TB control and prevention in 2024 will be 24.3 percent lower than this year.
Specifically, the budget for the new latent TB infection screening program, launched this year, has been completely cut. This program screens for TB in newborns, infants, and those who work in patient care facilities that are at high risk of TB outbreaks. This year’s budget was around 950 million won, but the proposed budget for next year is only 1.579 billion won.
Labor costs for TB nurses and dedicated personnel in medical institutions and health centers have also been significantly reduced. According to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the number of TB nurses will go down by 26.7 percent, from 341 this year to 250 next year, and the number of dedicated workers will drop by 29.6 percent, from 668 to 470.
These nurses and personnel are responsible for TB testing, managing hospitalization, and guiding patients on their medication. Studies have shown that the success rate of treating TB patients improves when dedicated nurses are involved.
Ashley Song (email@example.com)