WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo: WHO
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo: WHO

Clock ticking in fight against TB in the world

By Mphathi Nxumalo Time of article published Mar 24, 2021

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Durban - AS the world commemorated World Tuberculosis Day, the World Health Organization said the clock was ticking for world leaders to keep their commitments to end the disease.

According to WHO’s 2019 statistics, the disease killed 1.4 million people globally and 10 million people contracted the disease in the same year. The theme for this year’s TB day was “The Clock is Ticking”.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom said: “The effects of Covid-19 go far beyond the death and disease caused by the virus itself. The disruption to essential services for people with TB is just one tragic example of the ways the pandemic is disproportionately affecting some of the world’s poorest people, who were already at higher risk for TB.”

In South Africa, the First National Tuberculosis Prevalence Survey South Africa 2018 – which was a collective effort between the National Institute for Communicable Diseases on behalf of the Department of Health, the South African Medical Research Council and the Human Sciences Research Council – said SA was one of 30 high burden TB countries and contributed three percent of cases globally.

“The country’s TB epidemic is driven by a number of factors including low socio-economic status and a high HIV co-infection burden. Additionally, delayed health-seeking behaviour among individuals with TB, as well as a high burden of undiagnosed disease in communities also drive the TB epidemic.”

The research found that the TB burden was 1.6 times higher in men than women. “The disproportionately high TB prevalence of TB among men has previously been associated with delays in seeking care and access barriers. Similar concerns have been noted in the HIV programme and joining efforts to provide male friendly health services are needed,” the report read.

Treatment Action Campaign’s research officer Makhosazana Mkhatshwa said critical services to TB were diverted to Covid-19. She said although it was important to respond to Covid-19, it was not wise to let people die of TB.

She said it needed to be remembered that TB was the number one killer disease in SA.

Mkhatshwa said during the early months of the hard lockdown, many healthcare facilities stopped providing services such as screening, testing and counselling as the coronavirus became the number one priority. There were fewer nurses at the healthcare facilities which resulted in long queues and sometimes people waiting in the rain.

“This discourages people from going to the facility to get their medication or get their required check-up. Since Covid was announced, a lot of TB patients have been lost to follow up in public facilities, that means they stopped coming to get their medication and care,” she said.

Mkhatshwa also noted that there was an improvement in the number of treatment options for people with drug-resistant TB. She felt more still needed to be done such as greater accessibility to key drugs at healthcare facilities.

Mhkhatshwa provided solutions in the fight against TB.

“Declare TB a national healthcare emergency, co-ordinate the Covid response alongside the TB response, for example, Covid screening can be done alongside TB screening rather than prioritizing Covid at the expense of TB, involve us, civil society in decision making, especially people living with HIV because we are affected by TB more in terms of infections and TB deaths.”

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