It is worrisome that Nigeria is among countries in the world with the highest tuberculosis (TB) burden. The nation’s ranking as the fifth most TB-endemic country does not give cause for cheer. In the latest global TB report of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nigeria reportedly fared better than Bangladesh, China, India and Indonesia. Others included Pakistan, the Philippines and South Africa.
The WHO cited underfunding, fragile health infrastructure and workforce shortages as factors that had made timely diagnosis, treatment and eradication of TB unattainable in the country.
The development is, indeed, unfortunate. It is equally shameful that while Nigeria has not been able to drastically reduce its TB burden, countries such as Brazil, China, Russia and Zimbabwe are doing far better.
Tuberculosis, according to medical experts, is a contagious infection caused by Mycobacterium. Although it usually attacks the lungs, it can also spread to other parts of the body such as the brain or spine.
Most TB infections do not have symptoms, and these are known as latent infections. It is said that about one in ten of such latent infections eventually progresses to active TB case. If untreated, about half of those affected will eventually die.
The symptoms of active TB are chronic cough with mucus that contains sputum and blood, chest pains, fever, night sweats, weight loss and general weakness. However, the good news is that tuberculosis, which many consider a death sentence in this part of the world, is both preventable and curable. That is why it is puzzling that Nigeria still has a high TB burden.
According to medical experts, TB is spread from person to person through the air. When someone with TB coughs, sniffs or spits, the germs are propelled to the air. Those that inhale just a few of these germs could be infected. Even though anyone could be infected, the most vulnerable are those suffering from other conditions that impair the immune system, such as HIV patients and users of tobacco. That is why experts advise those with the disease to limit contact with other people as much as possible.
There are medications that can treat and cure TB. It is advised that those undergoing treatment must follow the doctors’ prescriptions very strictly. Patients are advised to continue with their medications, as failure to do so might cause a relapse.
The WHO says that tuberculosis is one of the top ten causes of deaths globally, with about 4,500 lives lost per day. About one-quarter of the world’s population is believed to have latent TB, which means that such people cannot transmit the disease.
In Nigeria, a major setback to the fight against TB is the fact that health providers treat patients without reporting such cases to the health authorities, thereby preventing the authorities from having the actual picture of TB cases in the country.
Lagos State is reported to have the highest burden of tuberculosis in Nigeria. Apart from being densely populated, those in the slums lack access to adequate healthcare.
The TB situation in Nigeria is dire. According to the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP), the disease kills about 18 Nigerians every hour, while 47 new cases are also diagnosed each hour.
The NTBLCP says that factors aiding the spread of TB in the country include the poor knowledge and awareness of the disease, low coverage of the treatment and stigmatisation of patients. It is believed that as much as 75 per cent of Nigerians with the disease are yet to be diagnosed.
Not less than 418, 000 Nigerians are afflicted with tuberculosis every year, and among these are 41,800 children. And the most affected people are those in the working age group of 15 to 44 years. Government should create more awareness about the disease, just as more treatment centres should be made available across the country.
Let the three tiers of government work together to check the spread of the disease. They should strive to eradicate TB and other infectious diseases in the country. In all, government should allocate more funds to the health sector.