Picture: AP/African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG - Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called on the South African government to continue providing global leadership on Tuberculosis (TB) issues by committing to do more to close deadly gaps in TB testing, treatment and prevention.

MSF is the largest non-governmental provider of Drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) treatment worldwide. 

MSF is involved in research for new, shorter and more effective drug regimens, conducting both clinical trials and observational research in some of its DR-TB treatment projects.

TB remains the number one killer disease in South Africa and significant gaps in the response to TB remain.

MSF urged the South African government to recognise the gaps during the United Nation’s first-ever summit on TB, and to join other governments in committing to declare ambitious national targets to close the gaps in testing, treatment and prevention, and to reduce TB mortality within five years.

Dr Amir Shroufi, medical co-ordinator for MSF in South Africa, said: "78,000 people in South Africa died of TB in 2017, and while this is fewer than estimated for the previous year, TB treatment coverage remains low at 68%, meaning that up to one third of all people living with TB are being missed. New case finding strategies are required to ensure that all those with TB are identified and placed on treatment quickly.

"Another major barrier to further reductions in TB mortality is the fact that only 61 percent of people who are infected with both TB and HIV are estimated to be on antiretroviral treatment (ART). Two thirds of TB deaths globally are people also infected with HIV, and the importance of maintaining and increasing ART scale up in an integrated response to both diseases cannot be overemphasised, in terms of reducing TB mortality."

TB killed an estimated 1.6 million people worldwide in 2017.

Shroufi said government should commit to mobilise scientific communities and increase funding for TB Research & Development (R&D) to develop and deliver faster, safer, simpler tools.

"To save lives and alleviate unnecessary suffering, South Africa must join other governments in pledging to scale up use of the tools we have to tackle TB today and commit to developing and delivering faster, safer and simpler tools for tomorrow," said Shroufi.

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African News Agency (ANA)