Winde uses Red Cross visit to highlight impact of TB on Cape children
Cape Town - The Western Cape Government hopes its response to the tuberculosis (TB) epidemic is as agile and responsive as its Covid-19 pandemic response.
Premier Alan Winde was speaking at a visit to the Centre for Childhood Infectious Diseases on Wednesday, while finding out more about children infected with TB.
Winde was given a tour of the facility, at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, with Professor Brian Eley; Professor Heather Zar, chairperson of the department of paediatrics and child health; and the hospital’s acting chief executive, Dr Anita Parbhoo.
“While most cases of childhood TB in the metro west region are diagnosed and treated at community TB clinics, some children require inpatient care because of the severity of their illness and because of other underlying conditions.
“In 2020 alone, there were 217 children diagnosed with TB at the RCWMCH, at an average of 18 cases per month,” Winde said.
“Upon being discharged most of the children are referred to their local TB clinics for ongoing TB treatment. Some children with TB resistant or other complex forms of TB who require ongoing specialised care but who cannot be treated at home, attend the specialised TB clinic at the RCWMCH as outpatients, run in collaboration with a paediatrician from Brooklyn Chest Hospital.”
The premier said it is important that parents look out for signs of possible TB infection so that treatment can be provided as soon as possible.
Zar said fewer patients were admitted to the centre in the past year.
“During the strict lockdown our admissions went right down and what we saw was children coming with more severe illness. So parents were obviously delaying until they could get to the hospital because they were fearful to come to the hospital.
“Fewer cases of pneumonia due to flu was noted, believed to be due to Covid-19 preventive measures such as mask-wearing and physical distancing. Mask-wearing could potentially prevent the transmission of TB, however, masks are not worn indoors at home, where infections could be transmitted.
“Some of the TB symptoms to look out for in children are persistent coughing for more than four weeks, poor weight gain or malnutrition, fatigue and lethargy, and loss of appetite,” said Zar.
WInde added: “If children display these symptoms, parents are urged to take them to their nearest clinic where they will get a free TB test, and where treatment will be provided. If further specialised care is needed, depending on the case, our network of hospitals is also on standby to assist.”
Winde said lessons taken from the Covid-19 response were being used to see how better to address the other “stark epidemic” – TB.
“We’ve set ourselves a task now: How do we eradicate TB? We’ve got funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and so I’ve asked the team to go away and come back with a plan on what we need to do. Thinking about how we've dealt with Covid-19, let's think in the same way about dealing with TB.”