The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently disclosed that more than 500,000 people are killed by Tuberculosis (TB) in Africa annually. The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, who revealed this during the marking of this year’s World Tuberculosis Day, pointed out that the situation is inexcusable. The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘The Clock is Ticking.’
Moeti lamented that across Africa, the challenges in TB prevention and control were significant with only 56 per cent of people with the disease on treatment. He further decried the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in compounding the difficulties in accessing TB services. According to him, “in South Africa, monthly notifications of new TB cases fell by more than 50 per cent between March and June 2020. In some countries, TB staff and testing equipment were reallocated to COVID-19 responses.” Without doubt, concerted effort is crucial to address the challenges of the disease as well as accelerate progress towards ending the scourge by 2030.
There were estimated 2.5 million TB cases in the African Region in 2019, accounting for 25 per cent of the global burden. With the coronavirus and consequent lockdowns and supply-chain disruptions threatening the progress recorded in combating the disease, the figure must have increased. Restrictions on air and sea travel have also severely limited delivery of medications to the hardest-hit parts of the continent. Other diseases, such as HIV and malaria, contribute in weakening the fight against the TB scourge.
In Nigeria, it is estimated that about 18 citizens die of TB daily. According to medical experts, TB is caused by bacteria spread from person to person in the air through coughs or sneezes. It can be treated with antibiotics. But when the drugs are not properly used or are mismanaged, multidrug-resistant and extensively drug-resistant TB can occur.
Even though Tuberculosis is curable and preventable, it still ranks among the leading causes of death from a single infectious agent. Experts put the disease among the top 10 causes of death worldwide. In Africa, it is among the five deadliest infectious diseases. Others are measles, malaria, influenza and diarrhea.
TB is not only communicable but lethal. That is why people need to be conscious of their lifestyle. It kills faster than other communicable diseases. The infection rate of TB keeps rising in Nigeria and Africa, annually, despite the discovery of drugs to tackle the menace.
The Federal Government and its partners have implemented various interventions to ensure that people with TB are treated. However, some of them do not avail themselves of these services, preferring rather to patronise unorthodox centres and non-professionals
We urge TB patients to avail themselves of treatments of the diseases at various government designated hospitals and health centres. Good enough, tuberculosis is not a death sentence. It is curable and the treatment is free in Nigeria. It can however be long and expensive.
Therefore, the theme for this year’s TB Day celebration provides the opportunity for the government to intensify public awareness about the devastating effects of the disease on health and other sectors as well as a renewed commitment to accelerate efforts to combat the disease at the national, state, local government and community levels.
It is good that the 36 state governors in Nigeria are part of the campaign against TB. We call on the Federal Government to domesticate United Nations agreement on tuberculosis and end the scourge by 2030. The Federal Ministry of Health and other relevant agencies should ensure effective and efficient implementation of tuberculosis policy. Let there be improved funding for the disease and the health sector.
We enjoin the government to include tuberculosis treatment in the primary health care package in the country for easy access. It may also consider the inclusion of TB services into the National Health Insurance Scheme because it is a public health concern. Beyond TB, the government should also pay attention to other killer diseases, such as malaria, measles, typhoid fever and others currently ravaging the country.