Johannesburg - The South African Medical Association (SAMA) said government should focus on neglected groups such as healthcare and mine workers as the world commemorates World Tuberculosis Day on Sunday.
The theme of this year’s commemoration is “It’s Time”, a reference to the urgent need for governments around the world to act on commitments to eradicate TB as set out in the Global 2020 milestones.
Ending the TB epidemic by 2030 is among the health targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. To accelerate the TB response in countries to reach targets, heads of state made strong commitments to end TB at the first-ever United Nations (UN) High-Level Meeting in September 2018.
"More urgent action to deal with TB is needed. High-risk groups such as healthcare and mine workers have all but been forgotten in the fight against TB and we believe there is a need to refocus attention on them as vulnerable groups," said Dr Angelique Coetzee, chairperson of SAMA.
Coetzee said the 2019 World TB Day theme was aimed at, among other things, scaling up access to TB treatment, ensuring sufficient and sustainable financing for TB research, promoting an end to stigma and discrimination associated with TB, and promoting an equitable, rights-based and people-centred TB response.
In 2017, South Africa reported 22,000 deaths from TB. This number, however, excluded those who suffered from both TB and HIV infection as these deaths were attributed to HIV.
“Make no mistake, TB is a serious issue in South Africa and, unless something drastic is done to deal with it, it will only get worse,” said Coetzee.
She said being responsible for providing healthcare does not make healthcare workers immune from contracting TB. In fact, she points out, healthcare workers were more likely to spread the disease to other uninfected patients within healthcare facilities which makes intervention in this group particularly important.
"The other high-risk group - mineworkers - work in enclosed environments and are forced to breathe the same air due to the lack of ventilation. It is critical that they, and healthcare workers, are tested at least once a year for TB,” said Coetzee.
Coetzee said anyone who presents with any symptoms associated with TB must be tested immediately and that treatment begins as soon as possible. Some common symptoms present as coughing, fever, night sweats, or weight loss, which may present as mild for months, leading to delays in seeking care.
"This delay can result in the transmission of the bacteria to between 10 to 15 other people in one year so it is critical that any signs are checked quickly. If there is any suspicion of TB, patients must consult their doctors for their own, and others’ safety," said Coetzee.
African News Agency (ANA)