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Listen as VOA news correspondent Steve Norman talks to to Project HOPE's Senior Director, Infectious Diseases, Dr. Christine Whalen about the "The missed 3 million."

VOICE OF AMERICA NEWS, WASHINGTON DC

Interview Transcript Dr. Christine Whalen, Senior Director, Infectious Diseases, Project HOPE

Washington DC -- March 24, 2014

VOA Host:  I am Steve Norman, VOA news in Washington.  Monday was World TB Day when countries and organizations around the world commemorated global efforts to fight tuberculosis. Among the many groups helping TB patients is Project HOPE which has worked in more than 120 countries to make health care available for people. Dr. Christine Whalen is Project Hope’s Senior Technical Director for Infectious Diseases. She has worked for more than 20 years helping people with TB. I asked her about this year's World TB day theme “The Missed 3 Million,” and who they are.

Dr. Christine Whalen:  We know that probably one third of the world's population is infected with TB. And every year just under nine million people become ill with TB. And of those people, many of them are indeed picked up by health systems, but we miss three million of these people. Many of them will go on to transmit the disease and fall very, very ill, and some will succumb to their disease. So the missed three million, these are people who are often the most vulnerable of populations who have difficult access to health care services. Very vulnerable populations, for example women and children, people who have less access living in remote, rural areas where health care few and far between. We also know that some of these three million are people living in both urban and rural areas, but because of the stigma associated with TB in many parts of the world, will be very reticent or hesitant to access services. We also know that a lot of people who do access services go to the private sector to begin with and not often the public sector.  And we are aware that many practitioners within the private sector are either not familiar enough with tuberculosis in terms of its diagnosis and certainly its treatment and may provide treatment that is not standard regimen and certainly not quality types of antibiotics that people need to complete their treatment and to be cured.

Host:  And what about Project HOPE? Where does your organization come into this?

Dr. Christine Whalen: Yes, Project HOPE has been working in health care since 1958 and we have been very, very active in tuberculosis control for the past 20 years or so.  We have programs in central Asian Republics, and also in a couple of countries in Africa— specifically Malawi and Namibia. Some of the work that we do, for example in the Central Asian Republics, we work at different levels, we work to support the national Tuberculosis Control Programs to help them strengthen their program. We work in the policy and the legal framework area because most of the services delivered in these countries have often been institutional based or hospital based, we support their efforts in decentralizing these services into primary health care level closer to the patients. We also work in supporting the laboratory— building laboratory capacity—and for those listeners, the laboratory is really the backbone of tuberculosis control programs. So with the laboratory we are able to diagnose people who are affected by TB and provide them appropriate treatment. We also use the laboratory to ensure that patients are followed up regularly throughout their treatment to make sure that they’re responding appropriately, and if not, can change their drug regimens as appropriate.

Host:  And I know that Project HOPE often works with partners in locations around the world to provide health care.  Is that the case also with TB?

Dr. Christine Whalen:  We can't do this by ourselves. We need to work together as a global community. And I think together we will be able to address in the future, in these coming years to really find those missing three million. And to make sure that we can find, treat and cure them.

Host:  Dr. Christine Whalen is Project HOPE’s Senior Technical Director for Infectious Diseases.  For more on the work of Project HOPE, check out their website at projecthope.org. I am Steve Norman, VOA news in Washington.

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