TB testing took severe knock during lockdown
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Cape Town – Tuberculosis (TB) testing, the mainstay of SA’s TB programme, took a severe knock during lockdown which left many South Africans with undiagnosed TB, experts have said.
One of South Africa’s foremost TB researchers, Dr Francesca Conradie, a principal investigator at the Clinical HIV Research Unit (CHRU), has called for a renewed focus on TB testing in South Africa to help find new TB cases that ‘went missing’ during the Covid-19 lockdown.
"As part of World Aids Day, the Clinical HIV Research Unit has called on healthcare workers to test patients with TB symptoms, especially HIV positive patients.
’’People with symptoms should also ask for a TB test. TB spreads very easily because it is airborne. If left untreated, it is life-threatening. Delays in treatment can have a devastating impact on a person's health while spreading it to others,” Conradie said.
The symptoms of TB include coughing, chest pain, loss of weight, loss of appetite, coughing up blood, sweating at night, tiredness, weakness, shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing.
Conradie said until March this year, SA’s testing programme was performing well but there was a significant drop in numbers when Covid-19 cases overwhelmed the healthcare system.
“People were scared to go to facilities. The consequence is that only sick people presented with severe TB disease. We will be able to quantify this in about six months. TB is a long, insidious illness which is why we need to catch people with ‘a touch of TB’ early. If we do, patients have minimal lung disease and a far better prognosis.”
According to Dr Harry Moultrie, senior medical epidemiologist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ Centre for Tuberculosis, “TB testing dropped by as much as 32% between March and October this year.”
Conradie also predicts that SA may see an increase in childhood TB as a result of the lockdown. "Families were confined to their homes for several weeks. One adult with undiagnosed or untreated TB would have infected children at home.”
Meanwhile, the provincial health department has prioritised HIV and TB programmes by initiating new clients and welcoming back ones returning after treatment interruptions during the Covid-19 pandemic."
Meanwhile, the provincial health department has prioritised HIV and TB programmes by initiating new clients and welcoming back ones returning after treatment interruptions during the Covid-19 pandemic.