From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
On March 24, Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate the 2021 World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, with the theme “The clock is ticking” and a call on global leaders and other parties to quicken action on eradicating TB.
TB is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It spreads through inhaling tiny droplets from the cough or sneeze of an infected person. It is a serious condition but can be cured with proper treatment.
TB mainly affects the lungs. It can also affect other parts of the body, including the glands, bones and nervous system. There are high chances of catching TB through physical contact. Nigeria ranks first in Africa and sixth globally in the burden of TB.
This year’s celebration provided another opportunity to raise global awareness about the disease and the significant number of people that die of the disease yearly, thus encouraging people that present symptoms of the disease to get tested and begin treatment as quickly as possible so they can stand a chance of recovery.
The annual event also focused on enlightening the world that, although TB is dreaded and deadly, it is curable, contrary to erroneous beliefs and information available to many people, particularly in endemic countries.
Evidently, the theme of the 2021 event was to remind the world that it is less than two years to fulfill promises and take action on the commitments made at the United Nations High-Level Meeting (UNHLM) on TB in 2018.
Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the attention of global leaders away from other deadly diseases that are threats to the health. The pandemic has entered its second year, and is increasingly taking medical resources and attention away from providing necessary life-saving diagnoses, medicine and care for people suffering from TB, meaning that efforts to end the scourge in Nigeria by 2022 may not yield the desired result.
In low- and middle-income countries, TB remains the biggest killer infectious disease. Unfortunately, the world has focused on COVID-19, while 4,000 people die from TB every single day, and 27,000 people come down with the disease.
Things to know about TB
There has been a consistent campaign, particularly at the grassroots level, for people who present symptoms related to that of TB to quickly present themselves for diagnosis and treatment.
The National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP) and other organizations like the Stop TB Partnership have championed the campaign over the years. In several campaigns, where they have encouraged anyone with consistent cough and constant fatigue to run a check on possible TB active case.
They highlighted that anyone with TB infection will observe serious coughing with blood, which may last three or more weeks. The person will also experience chest pain, or pain with breathing or coughing, fever, loss of appetite and weight loss, among several others.
All cases of TB are passed from person to person through body fluid or droplets. When someone with TB infection in their lungs coughs, sneezes, spits, laughs or talks, the tiny droplets of saliva or mucus are expelled into the air, which can be inhaled by another person.
Study has, however, confirmed that tobacco use has been found to increase the risk of developing active TB with more than 20 per cent of TB cases worldwide attributable to smoking. Also, about 95 per cent of deaths recorded in developing country a few years ago among women within the ages of 15 and 50 were caused by TB.
Anybody can contact TB but health care workers are at higher risk of contracting the disease. HIV-possitive patients are at risk too because they have an immune system problem. Those who live in a crowded conditions such as prisons, people with severe kidney disease, those that have taken cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, as well as smokers are at risk too.
To avoid contracting the disease, health experts advise that one should eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meat. They requested that people avoid fatty, sugary and processed foods. BCG vaccination, use of protective measures such as facemasks are also recommended for people that work in health care facilities. Someone who has active TB should be encouraged to follow treatment instructions.
Action against TB
During the World TB Day, the Federal Ministry of Health, through the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP), engaged in community enlightenment in Lugbe, Abuja, as part of measures to enlighten the community about TB.
With the language the people understand, officials of the NTBLCP educated the community on symptoms to watch out and what they should do whenever such cases and symptoms are presented.
They strongly neutralized the fears of TB patients in which many of them believe that TB is a highway to death, maintaining that the disease, though dreaded and deadly, is curable if identified early and treated.
Meanwhile, national coordinator, NTBLCP, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Chukwuma Anyaike, who spoke at a press conference to herald the 2021 World TB Day, admitted that COVID-19 has negatively affected all efforts to tame tuberculosis in Nigeria. He expressed fears that Nigeria might miss the 2022 deadline to end the scourge.
He pointed to data released by Stop TB Partnership, which showed that global treatment and diagnosis of TB cases witnessed a drastic decline in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected over 100 million people worldwide.
Low TB case detection has remained a major challenge in the TB control efforts as highlighted by people managing the disease in Nigeria. Data revealed that only 27 per cent of the estimated incident TB cases are detected. There are fears that undetected TB cases could further constitute a pool of reservoirs that could fuel transmission of TB in the community, as one undetected infectious TB case can infect between 12 to 15 people per year.
Minister of State for Health, Dr. Adeleke Mamora, during a press briefing to commemorate 2021 World TB Day in Abuja, insisted that tackling TB was prioritized in Nigeria based on available data.
He said, in line with the Federal Government’s efforts to ensure good health and wellbeing for all Nigerians as envisioned in Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 3, the Federal Ministry of Health, through NTBLCP and with the support of partners, has initiated several interventions to tackle the disease.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization Nigeria (WHO) country representative, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, has reaffirmed WHO’s commitment to ending TB in Nigeria.
He said: “WHO will continue to support Nigeria in developing and implementing guidelines, plans, framework and strategic documents to end TB epidemic in Nigeria.
“We will also facilitate research to provide evidence-based interventions and innovations for finding the missing TB cases and enhancing the country efforts in reaching the set targets.”
He further stated that the WHO was working with the programme in data analysis towards formulating evidence-based policies for enhancing performance at all levels, “We will continue to support this and also monitor programmes in real-time, to identify challenges and advise on strategies to address the challenges.”
Some survivors’ testimonies during the event to mark the 2021 World TB Day, further confirmed that TB is curable, if properly treated.
A 38-year-old TB survivor, Ekong Francis Ubong, resident in Abuja, said, “On September 13, 2013, I fell sick thinking it was just malaria. I rushed to the pharmacy and got medication but two weeks into that I still had a high fever and non-stop cough, which went on for three more weeks. I was rushed to Asokoro General Hospital in Abuja, where a doctor recommended that I take a TB test, which came out positive. I was put on the usual six months medication.
“With the support of the TB Nigeria team, I was able to get medication for free and my mother made sure I never missed the medication for a day. I was certified TB-free after six months.”
Another survivor, Perpetua Ukaegbu, 34, a roadside food vendor in Abuja, advised that “when you find changes in your body, especially coughing for more than two weeks, please, go get tested for TB, the test and treatment are both free of charge.”
Perpetua said herself and her husband fell ill in 2017 and they were given free medical care and treatment at the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH), Kano, both were also cured after the six months of non-stop medication.