8 Apr 2013

TB and Hansen's Disease remain major problems in the Marshall Islands

1:53 pm on 8 April 2013

The Marshall Islands continues to struggle in its effort to reduce high rates of tuberculosis and Hansen's Disease, or leprosy.

A Ministry of Health quarterly report out last week indicated TB screenings are discovering about 100 new cases a year on top of ongoing cases already under treatment.

The World Health Organization ranks the Marshall Islands as having the ninth highest TB rate globally and the highest in the Pacific, with a rate of 536 cases per 100,000 people.

Hansen's Disease has been eradicated in many countries of the world.

But the WHO says Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands have been unable to meet the target of lowering the number of cases to fewer than one per 10,000 people - the WHO's definition of leprosy elimination.

As of December 31, 165 people were being treated for leprosy in the Marshalls, giving the country a rate of 31 per 10,000 people - more than 30 times the WHO target for eradication.

Our correspondent reports that since these numbers reflect only the patients who have been identified on a few islands, the incidence rate of leprosy and TB is likely to be much higher.