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Tuberculosis Continues To Kill Cambodians

Laying in bed at the National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control, thin to the tendon, Sin Pich, 49, said she decided to go to the hospital after a cough that had persisted for around a year began producing.

She’d been at the center for two months, and she was getting weaker. Doctors say she’ll survive, but not all Cambodians are so lucky.

Health officials are facing a persistence of tuberculosis, which kills up to 35 Cambodians a day. That’s roughly the same number of people who died from the disease 5 years ago, according to USAID.

USAID ranks Cambodia one of nearly 20 most-burdened countries by tuberculosis, estimating that 64 percent of all Cambodians are infected.

In 2006, around 13,000 people died of the disease, according to the agency, which announced Thursday a $77-million health initiative, a large part of which would be to fight tuberculosis.

The government says it is working to build a network of treatment centers, but about 70,000 new cases appear annually, while many of those who die are also afflicted with HIV or AIDS.

“We have had a strategy, called DOTS, since 2004,” said Team Bak Khim, deputy director of the tuberculosis center, referring to directly observed treatment over a short period of time. “In this strategy, the patient can heal 100 percent.” However, that strategy is only in 11 provinces, or 36 districts.

The government is trying to use this strategy in all the provinces, he said. The problem is people don’t come to the hospital because they live far away. “We have to reach them,” he said.

Team Bak Him said he doesn’t believe the USAID figures. In 2008, only a few hundred people died from the disease, he said.