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TB expert raises concerns over SA’s response to 'long-standing' epidemic

Picture: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Picture: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Published Mar 24, 2021

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DURBAN - DESPITE the fact that tuberculosis (TB) can be treated and cured, South Africa does not have a handle on this long-standing epidemic that has become a huge problem.

Professor Kogie Naidoo, who is an expert on MDR drug-resistant TB and who heads HIV & TB treatment research at Aids research centre Caprisa, was speaking as the world today observes International TB Day.

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Naidoo said that in comparison with the Covid-19 pandemic that caused the deaths of more than 50 000 South Africans in the past year, about 30 000 people die each year from TB.

“It is really concerning that despite this infection having been with us for centuries, we don’t have a handle on it and it remains a huge problem.”

Naidoo said TB affected KwaZulu-Natal disproportionately. She said that in eight of the 52 health districts countrywide, HIV and TB were among the top four leading causes of death. Even among people who had HIV, most deaths were due to TB.

“Of these eight districts, three are in KZN. We know that deaths from HIV and TB account for a third of all deaths in our country, especially here in KZN.”

Naidoo said TB had been the country’s number one killer for more than a decade. South Africa’s TB burden could be described as 740 active TB cases in 100 000.

This had been found in a recent TB prevalence survey conducted across 110 community clusters across South Africa using the best research guidelines.

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TB was more prevalent in people between the ages of 35 and 44, and those above 65, Naidoo said. People with comorbidities were also more susceptible to getting TB. It was an infectious disease, so early diagnosis was important.

“The problem is that if TB is not diagnosed you remain infectious. You walk around, coughing out infectious droplets, infecting others and creating a public health concern.”

Good cough hygiene was important, including coughing into an elbow or a mask.

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Symptoms included coughing, fever, night sweats and weight loss. “Go to your nearest clinic or health facility and request a TB test like the way we go and request a Covid test, no matter how mild your symptoms are.” Once diagnosed, it was important to start a six-month course of treatment, which was 95% effective, immediately.

TB HealthCheck, a self-screening app based on the success of the Covid19 HealthCheck, was launched last month by the National Department of Health.

The service can be accessed by saving the Department of Health’s contact number 0600 123 456 and messaging the word “TB” on WhatsApp. The app is also accessible by dialling *134*832*5#

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