New TB cases halved as SA rallies behind innovative health solutions

The eventual availability of these innovative medicines will bolster the fight against TB. Picture: Towfiqu barbhuiya /Unsplash

The eventual availability of these innovative medicines will bolster the fight against TB. Picture: Towfiqu barbhuiya /Unsplash

Published Mar 25, 2024


The latest figures from the World Health Organization paint a sobering picture: South Africa is grappling with one of the heaviest TB burdens globally, with an estimated 280 000 new cases in 2022, leading to nearly 54 000 deaths - that's about 148 lives lost each day.

On a more hopeful note, World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, which was on March 24 carries the rallying cry “Yes! We can end TB”.

Despite TB being one of the deadliest diseases on the planet, with a concerning rise in drug-resistant strains, World TB Day serves as a reminder to rekindle our resolve, spark inspiration, and take concrete steps to put an end to TB, the World Health Organization says.

This year, South Africa has adopted the theme “Yes! You and I Can End TB” for World TB Day. It’s a powerful call to action for every South African to play a part in the national fight against TB.

The focus is on expanding access to TB services, including new diagnostic tools and treatment options. It’s also about recognising the need for joint efforts and international collaboration to eradicate this disease.

Bada Pharasi, CEO of The Innovative Pharmaceutical Association South Africa (Ipasa), shared exciting and innovative initiatives that have brought the fight to eliminate TB.

Bada Pharasi CEO of The Innovative Pharmaceutical Association South Africa (Ipasa). Picture: Bada Pharasi/Supplied

All thanks to recent breakthroughs, South Africa is getting the upper hand in the battle against TB.

As the global health-care sector recently observed World Tuberculosis Day, it served as a stark reminder of the ongoing battle against tuberculosis (TB), a disease that continues to afflict millions worldwide.

Now, more than ever, it is crucial to raise awareness and renew our commitment to combating this relentless disease.

South Africa is making strides in the battle against tuberculosis (TB), and it’s not going unnoticed. The nation has taken up the challenge set by the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals to stop TB in its tracks by 2030.

Pharasi, a leading voice from Ipasa, shared some heartening news: South Africa is on the fast track to slashing TB cases by 80% and TB-related deaths by a staggering 90% compared to 2015 figures.

The World Health Organization (WHO) laid down a marker to halve TB deaths by 2025, and South Africa has reached this goal and surpassed that milestone. Back in 2015, the country reported 552 000 TB cases, but by 2022, that number had dropped to 280 000.

And there’s more good news. The rate of TB cases per 100 000 people has taken a nosedive.

In 2022, 468 out of every 100 000 South Africans were diagnosed with TB, a significant fall from 988 in 2015. This puts South Africa in a position to meet the Sustainable Development Goal by 2030, Pharasi said.

Pharasi said: “According to reports by the government, new innovative medical interventions and developments have been linked with this success, including expanded screening activities with TB Health Check, the use of digital chest X-rays for TB screening, and the introduction of an SMS-based TB results notification system to improve a patient’s linkage to treatment.”

Since the initial discovery of the first TB cure in the 1940s, the pharmaceutical industry as part of health care has persistently endeavoured to enhance the standard of care for individuals affected by TB.

“In the past, the conventional approach to preventing TB among individuals exposed to the disease involved administering a medication called isoniazid daily for six months or longer.

"However, over the last decade, this approach has evolved with the introduction of new preventive therapy regimens, which can be taken for shorter durations, ranging from four to just one month,” Pharasi said.

“While three new medicines developed to treat the disease have been registered in South Africa in the past decade, some presented side effects and the need for long-term use.

“Fortunately, findings from a study conducted in South Africa on a new experimental medicine, quabodepistat, have shown significant promise. Quabodepistat, when combined with bedaquiline and delamanid, has proven to be safe and efficacious in treating drug-susceptible TB.”

With the findings presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in the US earlier this month, the experimental new medicine has performed well in a phase 2b/c trial, meaning that it can now proceed to a pivotal phase 2 trial.

While the eventual availability of these innovative medicines will bolster the fight against the disease with even greater efficacy, navigating through bureaucratic obstacles remains a significant hurdle for their realisation.