Simbongile Xesha collects her medication from the pharmacy at Town 2 Clinic, Khayelitsha. Picture: Sydelle WIllow Smith
Johannesburg - The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released its annual Global TB Report a week before heads of state convene in New York at the UN’s first summit on tuberculosis (TB), the UN High-level Meeting on TB, on Wednesday.

The report highlights sluggish global progress on TB, indicating that countries will not be able to meet their targets in the “End TB” strategy.

TB remains the world’s leading infectious disease killer, taking 1.6million lives last year (compared with 1.7million in 2016), with 10million people developing TB last year (about 10.4million people had TB in 2016).

However, South Africa saw a reduction in the estimated number of TB-related deaths.

About 78 000 people died of TB last year, fewer than estimated for the previous year, and 56 000 of those deaths were people co-infected with HIV/TB and 22 000 were HIV-negative. TB treatment coverage was estimated at 68%.

The reduction in the number of TB deaths brings South Africa closer to being on track to meet a globally agreed TB mortality reduction target of 35% for 2015 to 2020.

The WHO will also release new treatment guidelines for drug-resistant TB this year, which will recommend using the newer drug bedaquiline as part of the core treatment regimen.

Dr Amir Shroufi, a medical co-ordinator for MSF southern Africa, said: “While mortality from TB is showing signs of decline, it remains the leading cause of death in South Africa.

“Most of the decline comes from reduced mortality among those with HIV, who are at disproportionately high risk of death from TB, illustrating the importance of maintaining and increasing antiretroviral treatment scale-up to help further reduce mortality from TB.

“The intertwined nature of the HIV and TB epidemics highlights the importance of ensuring that the public health system in future responds to both diseases in a more integrated way.

“The country has rightly focused on finding the missing cases as a priority, and to maintain momentum in the fight against TB treatment coverage needs to improve further and new case-finding strategies, including new screening strategies, are needed to ensure that all those with TB are identified and placed on treatment quickly.”

The Star