Tackling TB with new technology in Sisonke

By Laea Medley Time of article published Apr 27, 2012

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A breakthrough in tuberculosis treatment is under way in KwaZulu-Natal’s Sisonke district, with all patients now having access to state-of-the-art technology that can detect the disease in just two hours.

This week, Sisonke became the first in the country to have district-wide coverage of the GeneXpert, which is used mainly to detect drug-resistant TB.

This was made possible by the TB/HIV Care Association – an NGO that works to empower communities by facilitating treatment – the KZN Department of Health, the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) and the World Health Organisation’s “Stop TB” programme.

According to TB/HIV Care Association spokesman, Zolani Barnes, the GeneXpert is a machine that amplifies the effects of the TB vaccination, taking only two hours to determine whether a patient has normal TB, or drug-resistant TB. “Previously, this process would take up to six weeks,” he said.

The first GeneXpert machine was used in Sisonke in September, but now with eight machines in the district, all patients will have access to it.

Curable

“Drug-resistant TB is curable, it just takes longer,” said Barnes. “It’s all about early detection and being educated about the disease. If patients with normal TB are not treated, they can develop drug-resistant TB.”

Another advance in TB treatment is that it has been decentralised – instead of patients being transferred to King George V Hospital in Durban, they will now be given treatment at St Margaret’s Hospital in the Sisonke district, which covers the Ingwe, Ubuhlebezwe, Greater Kokstad, Kwa Sani, and Umzimkhulu municipalities.

In addition, instead of staying in hospital for the duration of their treatment, patients will be re-integrated into the community where outreach teams will provide anti-TB drugs at home.

KZN Department of Health district manager, Gcina Rhadebe, said the department was still dealing with St Margaret’s infrastructure, as it was not yet ready to handle the influx of TB patients.

The department was also working to get the Umzinyathi district to the same level of TB treatment as Sisonke.

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