[Reform of Japan's NTP and its technical perspectives]

Toru Mori
Kekkaku: [Tuberculosis] 2004, 79 (10): 587-604
The 1951 Tuberculosis Control Law of Japan is now faced with tremendous changes that have occurred during the last 50 years in tuberculosis epidemiology and in the environment in tuberculosis control implementation. The law is also challenged with the shift of the paradigm for the National Tuberculosis (TB) Programme. In order to respond properly to these changes, the Tuberculosis Panel of the Health Science Council of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare submitted its report for the amendment of the law in March 2002. Based on this report, a new Tuberculosis Control Law was passed in Parliament last June, and related decrees of the Cabinet and the Ministry are now being revised in preparation for it's enactment in April 2005. In this special lecture, the main points and framework of the revisions were discussed with the perspective of the development of new technical innovations relevant to each area of the revised TB control legislation. 1. Case detection. There will be a shift from the current "indiscriminate" screening scheme to a selective one regarding periodic mass health examination. Only subjects aged 65 or older will be eligible for the screening, supplemented with selected occupational groups who are considered to be at a higher risk of TB, or may be a danger to others if they develop TB, such as health-care providers and school teachers. In addition, local autonomies are responsible for offering screening to the socio-economic high-risk populations, such as homeless people, slum residents, day laborers, and/or workers in small businesses. This means that the efforts of the autonomies are critical for the new system to be effective. The extra-ordinary examination will be limited to only the patient's contacts, and will be mandatory for those contacts so they cannot refuse to be examined by the Health Center. The public services used in the contact investigations will be greatly facilitated by such new technologies as DNA fingerprinting of TB bacilli and a new diagnostic of TB infection using whole-blood interferon-gamma determination (QuantiFERON). The quality of clinical diagnosis and monitoring of treatment should also be improved by introducing an external quality assurance system of commercial laboratory services. 2. Chemoprophylaxis. Although not explicitly defined in the new legislation, the expansion and improvement of chemoprophylaxis to cover anyone with any risk of clinical development of TB would have a tremendous effect in Japan, especially since 90% of patients who developed TB were infected tens of years ago. These technical innovations in diagnosis of TB infection will be very helpful. Development of new drug regimens for the preventive treatment is also badly needed. 3. Immunization. Prior to the amendment of the Law, the BCG vaccination of students entering primary and junior high schools has been already abandoned. In order to encourage the early primary vaccination for infants, the new Law will adopt the direct vaccination scheme in which babies will be given the BCG vaccine without tuberculin testing. This program will be implemented safely, only if it is given to young babies, e.g., less than one year old, as defined by the decree. It is essential to maintain the high level of vaccination coverage under the new program. The autonomy may encounter difficulty mobilizing client babies shortly after their birth (only one year, as compared with the current four years). To avoid the possible, though very rare, adverse health effects due to the vaccination of infected babies, careful questioning should be conducted regarding the risk of exposure to infection prior to vaccination. A ready course of treatment and examinations for abnormal reactions after vaccination (Koch's phenomenon) is also warranted. 4. Treatment and patient care: The revised Law clearly states the governmental responsibility for treating TB patients in close cooperation with a doctor. This is an important legal basis for the expansion of the DOTS Japan version. While the development of new anti-tuberculosis drugs will be realized in the near future, Japan still has to overcome the issue of improper practice of treatment, as well as the government's slow process for approving new drugs to be used for multi-drug resistant TB and non-tuberculous mycobacterioses. 5. Prefectural TB Control Plan: In order to resolve the problems specific to the respective prefectures in terms of epidemiological parameters or available resources, the new Law requests every prefecture to develop its own TB control plan. In order for the new TB Control Law to be effective, strong government commitment supported by technological innovation is mandatory. It is for that reason that the Japanese Society of Tuberculosis should aggressively join the global movement to stop TB along with the general public of Japan.

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