Currently, those who travel to the Gulf region for work are tested for active TB with routine X-ray examinations. “But this practice does not allow for the discovery of latent-infected individuals. And once they come into the country, full-blown active TB can emerge at any time, putting others at risk of infection,” says Petersen, as he analyzes x-rays and laboratory results alongside Dr. Farah Jadwad, head physician at Al Rahma Hospital. She explains that people can carry the pathogen for decades and not know it. “Then, perhaps by having a weakened immune system, the pathogen will suddenly develop into an active, and thus infectious, tuberculosis.”
The World Health Organization estimates that a startling one in four people worldwide is infected with tuberculosis. For Eskild Petersen, latent infections are the main reason why even highly developed nations with well-equipped health systems cannot eliminate the disease. One of the tasks in his job in Oman is creating structures for more effective TB treatment and screening in the country. The biggest obstacle, Petersen sees is the “lack of cooperation among different institutions and organizations.”
Oman has built special TB hospitals, like Al Rahma, and several modern national reference laboratories for testing active and latent TB cases. Now, the Omani government is positioned to pioneer a new major program in the Middle East: Theirs will be first in the region to test all expats for latent TB. An estimated two million tests per year using the QuantiFERON® -TB Gold Plus (QFT-Plus) TB blood test are planned. Dr. Seif Al-Albri, Director General, Directorate General for Disease Surveillance and Control, notes, "If we want to reduce TB infections to zero, we have to act now. The fight against TB is not just about how many people we treat, but how many we can screen.” The large-scale screening program will be carried out in coordination with all neighboring states, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, which also want to follow Oman's example and test for latent TB across the board. Saudi Arabia, for example, is currently planning to initiate more than 10 million tests per year.