TB cases significantly decreased in prisons in 19 years

─ owed to robust, effective screening efforts

DPI, Guyana, Monday, February 4, 2019

For many years, the government has been tackling Tuberculosis (TB) in the local penitentiaries, and from 2012, the numbers have been gradually decreasing; with 2018 recording the lowest amount of new cases in 19 years.

Recently, the Department of Public Information (DPI) sat down with the Programme Coordinator of the National Tuberculosis Programme (NTP), Dr. Jeetendra Mohanlall who gave updates in this regard. According to Dr. Mohanlall, at the end of 2018, only 8 new cases of Tuberculosis were diagnosed in prisons. This accounts for a vast reduction in new cases usually detected annually in the prisons.

The doctor who has been heading the programme for several years said the reduction “is owed to the robust and effective screening efforts that have been implemented in the prison system through a collaboration with the prison authority and with support from the Ministry of Public Health.”

Programme Coordinator of the National Tuberculosis Programme of the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Jeetendra Mohanlall

“We have had a DOTS [Direct Observed Treatment Short-course] Supervisor in the prisons since 2012, and so, we have been doing a lot of work since then in terms of screening cell by cell, block by block. In 2012, we have had 43 new cases in the prisons and over the years because of continuous screening and preventative therapy, last year we have only had 8 new cases in all the prisons,” he further said.

As the DOTS programme took effect in prisons, there was a lot of work to be done for it to be fully effective. The programme took root in the prisons as early as the year 2000 as efforts were explored to concretise the intervention.

“We had a lot of challenges before where the staff were not fully investigating the patients. For example, they would conduct one part of the investigation and leave out the other part … So, when we evaluated the patients, we found patients before us without proper investigations.” Dr. Mohanlall explained.

The programme coordinator was not shy to admit that there are still minor challenges that exist but confidently declared that this will not hinder the DOTS programme in the prisons. He noted that these low numbers indicated that eradicating TB in prisons is possible.

He extended gratitude to the health teams at the various prisons who facilitate and conduct actual TB clinics, collecting samples and providing continuous treatment. Meanwhile, the TB team from the unit at Georgetown Public Hospital regularly visits these prisons to perform follow-up checks on patients, especially new cases.

The most common type of TB detected in the prisons is Drug-Sensitive TB. This type of Tuberculosis can be cured within six months as long as a patient adheres to treatment.

With the low number of TB cases in prisons, the NTP is even closer to achieving and fulfilling its END TB strategy which seeks to eliminate TB as a public health problem by 2030. There are currently four prisons in Guyana; Lusignan, Mazaruni, New Amsterdam and Georgetown.

Delicia Haynes

Image: Jules Gibson