The Department of Health and Social Services launched a new initiative last week that will help speed up tuberculosis treatment in Behchoko.

Last Thursday, the department held the launch of a two-year project involving a new drug, rifapentine, that will cut down on the length of time it takes to treat latent tuberculosis. Previously, those found to have the disease would be put on a medical regimen that involved 79 twice-a-week doses of medication over a nine-month period. With the new drug, patients will need to be take two drugs once a week for 12 weeks.

“What we want to do in Behchoko is we’re delivering a project where we will be testing people who could be at risk of having latent TB and we will be providing a new treatment,” said Chief Public Health Officer Kami Kandola. “Basically (rifapentine) has been proven to be just as effective as that 9-month regimen.”

After testing in the United States found it to be effective and safe, rifapentine was approved by Health Canada for areas which have “urgent public health needs” involving tuberculosis, which includes certain areas of the North. Kandola said Behchoko has seen a higher number of cases of tuberculosis than the territory as a whole.

“Right now we’re targeting Behchoko because it has higher rates of active TB and latent TB, we’re targeting Behchoko and seeing how successful that is. Then the hope is down the road to involve this with the NWT in general,” she said.

Last week’s launch event took place at the community sport center and involved a feast where the department provided informational and educational sessions.

The two-year project is being provided in partnership with the Tli Cho Community Services agency,

all costs of administering the drug will be absorbed by the department through funding provided by the Public Health Office of Canada.

“To reduce TB rates, it is critical to fully engage high prevalence groups,including Indigenous populations, as full partners in all aspects of TB prevention and control. To this end, the department will be working on a pilot project with the Tli Cho Community Service Agency on identifying and treating persons with (latent tuberculosis) in the community of Behchoko,” stated a department spokesperson over email.

The department stated that those with latent tuberculosis may not know they are infected and urged members of the community to get screened.

The department of Health and Social Services is part of a global strategy looking to completely eliminate tuberculosis by the year 2030.

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