Arduous battle against tuberculosis bears fruit in Xinjiang

URUMQI -- Alim Ibrahim's day began quite early in the morning with a visit to the local doctor at his village in Xayar county, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, for medication and a platter of nutritious breakfast.

Despite being in his 20s, Alim Ibrahim was feeling continuously fatigued at work. He was later diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) about six months ago after undergoing a free government-sponsored physical examination.

Thanks to proper treatment and medication, his health improved significantly. "My appetite has improved and I have gained some weight," Alim Ibrahim said.

Aygul Erkin, the village doctor, told Alim Ibrahim that she will accompany him to the county hospital for checkups and to devise further treatment plans when the initial course of treatment ends.

Official surveys showed that Xinjiang had one of the highest TB incidence rates in China, especially in its less-developed southern prefectures. In 2016, Xinjiang initiated free health checkups for all residents and has continued to expand the coverage of TB screenings under this initiative.

The provision of free medicine and breakfast for TB patients has since become a common practice in southern Xinjiang's rural areas.

Wu Weidong, an epidemiologist from the regional center for disease prevention and control, said the government has made great efforts to contain TB outbreaks.

Early detection of the disease remains one of the most effective methods for prevention and control. A large number of experts are dispatched across Xinjiang to assist local medical workers with the checkups.

Wu said that when he was working in Hotan, he would sometimes examine hundreds of chest radiographs in a single day.

According to the official treatment guidance, refractory and highly infectious multidrug-resistant (MDR) TB patients are treated in designated medical institutions for closed treatment; closed management should last six months at designated medical facilities for ordinary TB patients in the infectious period, and non-infectious patients are treated at home.

Alim Ibrahim fell into the mildest category. However, patients who are without supervision at home are likely to discontinue medication because of temporary improvement, resulting in a relapse of the illness which can even develop into MDR TB.

Therefore, according to the preventive strategies of the World Health Organization, directly observed treatment has been introduced in the region. Village doctors or community workers organize patients to take medicine on time every morning.

Half an hour after taking the medicine, patients get a free nutritious breakfast consisting of eggs, milk and naan or bread.

Since July 2018, a total of 172,356 TB patients in Xinjiang have enjoyed directly observed treatment and free breakfast services, covering 98.09 percent of the patients.

Aygul Erkin said that in 2019 there were still a dozen of TB patients in her village, but now the number has declined to just two.

The hospitalization expenses for MDR TB patients have also decreased significantly over the years, thanks to increasing government funds. Besides, inpatients are not only guaranteed medical expenses but also provided with free meals and daily necessities.

The reported incidence of TB in Xinjiang decreased from 304.9/100,000 in 2018 to 87.8/100,000 in 2021. More remarkably, in the four prefectures of southern Xinjiang, the reported incidence of the disease has dropped from 640/100,000 to 151/100,000.