TB Month: Much has been done, much still to do

March is Tuberculosis (TB) awareness month around the world. The World Health Organisation has set a target of eradicating TB by 2035. In South Africa, this has particular importance.

As of 2013, TB was the number one cause of death in South Africa with 8.8% of all deaths caused by the disease[1] (above HIV, heart disease, pneumonia, and diabetes.) South Africans are contracting TB at the second highest rate of any country in the world (Lesotho is number one). But, TB is curable within six months if treatment is taken,[2] so why the continued high rates?

TB is an infectious bacterial disease that most commonly affects the lungs. It is contagious and can be transmitted from person to person via droplets from the throat and lungs of people with the active disease. There are two types of TB – latent and active.[3] Those who have latent TB are not contagious, and don’t show any symptoms. People with active TB are contagious and do have symptoms including a cough, chest pain weakness, fatigue and loss of weight.[4] In South Africa, Multiple-Drug Resistant TB (MDR TB) and Extreme Drug Resistant TB (XDR TB) are also prevalent.

The majority of South Africans infected with TB live, and work, in crowded areas such as townships and informal settlements.[5] Those who are already suffering from other illnesses, or whose immune system is weak, are more likely to contract the disease. The World Health Organisation estimates that of the 500 000 TB infected people, 66 percent have HIV and TB.[6]

The positive thing is that in South Africa both Government and NGOs have been working for a number of years to address TB. South Africa introduced a TB infection control programme in 2007, and on World TB Day in 2015 the Deputy President launched a comprehensive screening and testing campaign aimed at ending the epidemic.

The focus of the 2015 campaign is on vulnerable groups including inmates in correctional facilities, mineworkers and people living in mining communities, and children under five. The six priority districts for the campaign are Lejweleputswa (Free State), West Rand (Gauteng), Sekhukhune and Waterberg (Limpopo), and Bojanala and Dr. Kenneth Kaunda (North West).[7]

The work of Government in this area is not done in isolation, but with the support of international donors, and local NGOs including the University Research Company, Aurum, Right to Care, SA HIV Clinicians Society, and the South African National Tuberculosis Association (SANTA). Organisations like JPS Africa are also working on addressing MDR TB through training health care workers, and researching the extent of the problem. This TB month is an opportunity to get screened, and to support the effort to eradicate TB.

[1] Statistics South Africa (2015) Causes of Death 2013. http://www.statssa.gov.za/?page_id=737&id=3

[2] The National Institute for Communicable Disease (2016) “Key facts on TB in South Africa.” http://www.nicd.ac.za/?page=alerts&id=5&rid=527

[3] Health 24 (2015) 15 Facts you need to know about TB. http://www.health24.com/Medical/Tuberculosis/News/15-Facts-you-need-to-know-now-about-Tuberculosis-20150323

[4] Health 24 (2015) What are the symptoms of TB? http://www.health24.com/Medical/Tuberculosis/Overview/What-are-the-symptoms-of-tuberculosis-20130205

[5] Health 24 (2015) 15 Facts you need to know about TB. http://www.health24.com/Medical/Tuberculosis/News/15-Facts-you-need-to-know-now-about-Tuberculosis-20150323

[6] The Department of Health (2016) World TB Day 2016. http://www.gov.za/speeches/world-tb-day-2016-16-nov-2015-1333

[7] Soul City Institute and the Department of Health (2015) Literature review on TB in South Africa. http://www.soulcity.org.za/projects/tuberculosis/research/literature-review-on-tuberculosis-in-south-africa.pdf




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