REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

Massive spike in TB infections

By Chelsea Geach Time of article published Oct 31, 2020

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Cape Town - Some Covid-19 facilities in the Western Cape are going to be converted to cater for tuberculosis patients, as new data reveals a massive spike in TB infections in South Africa.

Tuberculosis advocacy group TB Proof has raised the alarm on startling new statistics which indicate a significant increase in infections.

According to the 2020 Global TB Report, 20% more South Africans became ill with TB last year, and 42% were missed by TB services.

The country’s first National TB Prevalence Survey revealed that 58% of people diagnosed with TB reported no symptoms, and were only picked up after mass screening with chest X-rays.

The findings of the long-anticipated national survey have not yet been officially released, but they were presented at the International Lung Union Conference last week.

“Add to this a catastrophic 50% nationwide drop in TB tests being conducted during the Covid-19 outbreak, and it is easy to understand why TB was, and will most likely continue to be, the leading cause of death in South Africa,” said Dr Helene-Mari van der Westhuizen, chairperson of the TB Proof board.

“This highlights how TB services are consistently failing to diagnose and support all people who are ill with TB. We call on the South African government to urgently release the TB Prevalence Survey and the much- anticipated TB Recovery Plan, which was developed in direct response to these alarming new data.”

CTICC(Cape Town International Convention Centre) Intermediate Care Facility: Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Premier Alan Winde has said that some Covid-19 facilities in the province, such as the additional ward completed at Sonstraal Hospital in Paarl, will in future be dedicated to TB patients. The Sonstraal facility has already accepted its first three TB patients.

“Initially, 30 of its 68 beds will be allocated for TB patients, with strict infection prevention control measures in place.

“We have planned to start admitting patients in November, but we have admitted three patients already in order to test our systems, and hope to start admitting more as required.”

Western Cape Health Department spokesperson Natalie Watlington said the lockdown has drastically reduced TB testing by nearly 50% in the Western Cape, according to a May report.

“The Impact of Covid-19 Intervention on TB Testing in South Africa report indicates that the average test volume during the non-intervention period was 47 520 per week, while it was 24 574 during the lockdown period, which was a 48% decline.

“The lockdown restriction has therefore caused unintended negative impact on all efforts of TB programme management. The implications of undiagnosed TB are serious and will compromise past successes in reducing the burden and mortality associated with drug-sensitive and drug-resistance tuberculosis.”

There was a 40% decline in TB cases diagnosed between March and April this year at the beginning of lockdown, and April 2020, compared with the previous year, saw a 47% decrease in cases.

Watlington also said many existing diagnosed patients missed their medical appointments during lockdown due to lack of transport, social distancing and the messaging to stay at home.

In addition to hospital facilities, Winde said that some of the services put in place during lockdown for Covid-19 would be repurposed to serve TB patients.

Weekend Argus

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