TB activists hold state to account for mandate failure

TB activists throughout South Africa have used World TB Day as a platform to criticise the government for neglecting its duty to prioritise tuberculosis.

TB activists throughout South Africa have used World TB Day as a platform to criticise the government for neglecting its duty to prioritise tuberculosis.

Published Mar 25, 2024


TB activists throughout South Africa have used World TB Day as a platform to criticise the government for neglecting its duty to prioritise tuberculosis, and for insufficient efforts in delivering TB services.

On Sunday, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the TB Accountability Consortium (TBAC) expressed worry over the slow advancement in TB service deployment nationwide, urging the government to empower the National TB Programme to effectively oversee and execute the country’s TB strategies and protocols.

According to Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP) communications officer Palesa Chidi, while acknowledging that some gains have been made, it is also important for the government to become more transparent and accountable around TB.

“Our organisations have jointly called on the national government to declare TB a national health emergency, and to give the disease the priority it deserves. Last week hundreds of activists marched to the National Department of Health to impel this imperative on the state.

“The group marched from the Heartfelt Arena in Tshwane to the National Department of Health to hand over a memorandum to officials, highlighting the plight of hundreds of thousands of people who are affected by TB,” Chidi said.

Chidi added that despite being treatable, TB remains a significant public health threat. It is South Africa’s biggest killer, with more than 54 000 people dying annually – 31 000 of them are people living with HIV, and an estimated 280 000 infected each year.

At the official World TB Day celebration in Evaton, north of Sebokeng, Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said although the nation has achieved some progress with its TB initiatives, there is still a significant challenge.

He discussed the National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB, and STIs, which was introduced in 2023 and ran for five years.

Phaahla further emphasised the importance of continuing to locate TB patients and closing the detection gap in terms of male-friendly services.

TBAC programme manager, Russell Rensburg, said that as they move into the next administration, their goal today was really for TB to be a political priority.

“We are not trying to underscore the achievements that have been made because they have been significant, but we have this constitutional right of the right to healthcare, the obligation is to progressively realise and with progressive realisation, we have to start with the people with the least access,” Rensburg said.

TAC chairperson, Sibongile Tshabalala, added that as the country marks 30 years of democracy, access to TB services is actually a realisation of the right to health enshrined in the Constitution and in the National Health Act. People living with TB in South Africa deserve the right to health.

In the memorandum that the organisations handed to the Health Department, there were four key asks:

1.⁠ Safeguard TB funding within increased district health services allocation. The government possesses powers to ring-fence funding allocations, including the TB Recovery Plan.

2.⁠ ⁠Enhance accountability. The government has to refocus its constitutional obligations in progressively realising the right to health for all, and for setting out frameworks that will save lives… 54 000 infected people living in South Africa should not be the casualties for the government failing this mandate.

3.⁠ Strengthen bi-directional decision-making. With all the information afforded to us, the government needs to do better in improving multi-sectoral engagements by ensuring that communities are in the rooms where decisions are made.

As referenced in the 2023 TBAC State of TB Report, bi-directional decision-making is the only way to realise the National Strategic Plan for HIV/TB & STIs 2023 to 2028. Let communities lead, let the data be available for communities affected.

4. Strengthen political will. The deputy president as the chairperson of Sanac must provide effective political leadership to ensure that our National Strategic Plan is a living document, and that we meet our targets on HIV and TB treatment.

The calls to address this pressing health emergency were first made in 2021 by the TAC. To date, however, no significant action has been taken.

The Star