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SA in grip of TB crisis - activists

"The country needs to invest in more research and development to speed-up testing and to do it more efficiently,” Vuyokazi Gonyela pointed out. File photo: REUTERS

"The country needs to invest in more research and development to speed-up testing and to do it more efficiently,” Vuyokazi Gonyela pointed out. File photo: REUTERS

Published Aug 29, 2017

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CAPE TOWN - South Africa remains one of the countries with the highest number of new TB infections, with an increase in the number of drug-resistant cases.

This country is one of six nations that accounted for 60% of the world’s new TB cases, according to the World Health Organisation’s Global Tuberculosis Report.

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The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) agreed and said TB was the new struggle that needed to be won, after winning the fight for access to HIV/Aids medication.

TAC deputy general secretary Vuyokazi Gonyela said the epidemic needed to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.

“We need more advocacy. TB is another crisis we need to strongly address. What we did with the HIV pandemic We need to do the same with TB, because it is getting out of hand.”

More interventions were needed and pharmaceutical companies have to come on board and drop their prices for medication, she said.

“The elderly and people living with HIV are the most affected," she added.

"The country needs to invest in more research and development to speed-up testing and to do it more efficiently,” Gonyela pointed out.

The TAC is hosting its 6th congress, ahead of its 20th anniversary next year, where Gonyela said issues around public health and TB were discussed.

“The public health care system isn’t really coping with the TB epidemic. It's another crisis we need to prioritise as a country. There is data that tells us that over 450000 new infections are registered each year.

"That is nearly half a million new cases of people confirmed to have the disease and that means they are exposing others to the bacteria.”

Mark van der Heever, spokesperson for the Department of Health, said while there has been a steady decline in new TB cases, there has been an increase in the number of new drug-resistant TB cases.

“Yes, as the decline shows, the department is making progress in reducing the number of new TB cases annually.

"With the addition of new drugs (bedaquiline, linezolid and delamanid), we are hoping that more people will complete their DR-TB treatment, as the new drugs are better tolerated and the side-effect s are less.”

He said stigma has a negative effect on diagnosis and treatment of TB.

“It often prevents people from seeking care early in the course of their disease when they are more likely to be cured.

"Patients who start their treatment late are also less likely to complete their drug course,” he added.

Nazir Ismail, head of the Centre for TB at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said South Africa’s history had a lot to do with the country’s “TB burden”.

“The widespread use of high-quality TB diagnostics to detect TB early allows us to report more accurate data, which is not true for many African and Asian countries. The burden, despite these factors, has shown a decline in recent years.”

Ismail said while there has been a reduction in the number of cases annually, the numbers were still in the hundreds of thousands.

“The reductions are seen mainly among women with a slower reduction in men, who contribute to a larger burden.

"This speaks to the health-seeking behaviour of men and we need to have strategies that target this group if we are to win the battle against TB.”

Ismail pointed out that TB was still the leading cause of death from infectious diseases in the country.

“Using the latest technology to diagnose TB and the introduction of two new TB drugs, the main issue is that these will not have an effect if people with symptoms suggestive of TB (cough, fever, night sweats and weight loss) do not come forward for a diagnosis.

"All tests and treatment in the state sector are free and the best available tools are used for detecting TB.”

The WHO report listed six countries that accounted for 60% of the new cases of TB, which included India, Indonesia, China, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.

"Global progress depends on major advances in TB prevention and care in these countries.

"Worldwide, the rate of decline in TB incidences remained at only 1.5% from 2014 to 2015," the report said.

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Cape Argus

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