Friday, September 22, 2017

Shortage of TB doctors leading to patient backlogs

Head doctors at hospitals around Myanmar are calling for more resources to be dedicated to the fight against tuberculosis, as a current shortfall in medical officers has left patients waiting on treatment.

Medical staff transfers at the nation’s hospitals are one source of Myanmar’s tuberculosis challenges. Photo: Kaung Htet / The Myanmar TimesMedical staff transfers at the nation’s hospitals are one source of Myanmar’s tuberculosis challenges. Photo: Kaung Htet / The Myanmar Times

The calls were made at an annual national evaluation meeting in Yangon on December 16.

Mingalardon Specialist Hospital superintendent Dr Ko Ko Naing said that while the hospital prioritises HIV and TB patients, there are only a few doctors who specialise in TB, leading to a significant patient backlog. Understaffing, he says, is a pressing matter.

“The shortages are always medical machines and manpower. But the most important problem is manpower. We are facing a lack of medical officers,” he said

Other doctors pointed to a general lack of expertise on TB, as doctors frequently transfer.

“The DOTS [Directly Observed Treatment] department is running with one medical staff member as the focal person in our hospital,” said a doctor from West Yangon Hospital who asked not to be named.

“The medical officer usually changes once in six months. The officer [needs training for treating other diseases], and experience of other wards. When it comes to the TB unit, there is a constant shifting of medical officers,” the doctor said.

Poor communication between various units within the hospital is also an issue, as is the practice of promoting and shifting staff once they have been trained in treating TB.

National TB program manager Dr Si Thu Aung said there is a plan in the works for refresher courses in order to keep departments stocked with doctors with knowledge specific to TB.

“The lack of human resources is a problem medical wards face due to many reasons, including promotions and transfers,” he said. “Our plan involves refresher training. Whenever medical officers transfer to another department, the training for them will be provided again and again,” he said, adding that there was adequate funding for the scheme.

Myanmar is one of the 30 countries in the world with the highest tuberculosis burden, as well as multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and TB/HIV. The mortality rate is 49 per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organization’s 2016 figures.