The reported spread of the untreatable variant of tuberculosis (TB) in Nigeria should worry the nation’s health authorities. More disturbing is the fact that the disease is becoming more endemic and untreatable with rising cases of Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDRTB) nationwide.
According to WHO, Nigeria has between 400,000 and 450,000 cases of tuberculosis, the highest in Africa and sixth in the world. WHO also noted that MDRTB has remained a public health crisis, even as there are 558,000 new cases with resistance to rifampicin, the most effective first-line drug.
WHO statistics show that the disease affects nine million people and causes the death of about 1.5 million globally in a year. Tuberculosis is believed to be the ninth leading cause of death worldwide, and the leading cause from a single infectious agent, even ranking above Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Seven countries that account for 64 per cent of the total cases in the world include India, Indonesia, China, Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, and South Africa.
The spread of TB in the country should serve as a wake-up call on the Nigerian health authorities. We believe that this is an opportunity to adequately address the tuberculosis burden in the country.
Tuberculosis, according to medical experts, is an infectious disease usually caused by the mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) bacteria. Known as a condition that primarily affects the lungs, tuberculosis can also affect other parts of the body.
Most tuberculosis infections show no symptoms. They are known as latent tuberculosis. But some of the latent infections thereafter develop into active disease that may end up killing about half of those infected if not adequately treated. Those living with latent TB do not spread the disease.
The major symptoms of tuberculosis include chronic coughs with sputum that contains blood, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. The disease is spread through the air when people who have active tuberculosis in their lungs cough, spit, speak, or sneeze. Active infection occurs more often in people with HIV/AIDS and in those who smoke.
Since 1993 when the global health agency declared a state of emergency on tuberculosis and adopted the Directly Observed Treatment Short-Course (DOTS) strategy to combat it, there have been other strategies to tackle the menace and bring an end to the disease.
In May 2014, WHO approved the post-2015 Global TB Strategy, which aims to end the global TB epidemic, with targets to reduce TB deaths by 95 per cent and to cut new cases by 90 per cent between 2015 and 2035. The strategy also aims to ensure that no family is burdened with catastrophic expenses due to tuberculosis, even as it sets interim milestones for 2020, 2025 and 2030.
Unfortunately, none of these strategies seems to have recorded sufficient success. Indeed, the federal and state governments have a lot to do to curb the spread of the disease.
The government must demonstrate enough political commitment to the eradication of tuberculosis. There must be an effective campaign against the disease in every part of the country, including schools, religious organisations, markets and at town hall meetings. Nigerians must be enlightened on how to discover their proper status. They must go to the hospital at the slightest symptom of tuberculosis.
Government must also ensure the availability of highly subsidised medications for TB patients, especially those in the rural areas and other vulnerable individuals and groups. Health workers, especially doctors and nurses, must be trained, and partnership with global health bodies and donor agencies must be strengthened.
There is need for more tuberculosis treatment centres across the country. Parents must be encouraged to have their children immunised against the disease.
The government should also ensure that TB patients under treatment should be quarantined to curtail the spread of the disease. Althoug tuberculosis is a dangerous disease, it is curable. Nigeria must work towards its eradication.