The call to end TB is a centuries long one. Tuberculosis, widely known as TB, has been stalking the human race for centuries and is still one of the most widespread and deadly diseases in the world, yet it is a preventable and curable disease. This contagious airborne infection that affects your lungs and is treated with antimicrobial drugs. Preventing the disease from spreading requires a lot of patient support and monitoring in adhering to the treatment.
In Namibia, tuberculosis is a major health problem with a rate of 442 cases per 100,000 people. Namibia is ranked fifth amongst countries with the highest burden of TB. This is largely due to the fact that Namibia has an aggressive strain of TB that is multi-drug resistant and does not respond to “ordinary” treatment.
End TB. Save Lives – a global call
Since the year 2000, global efforts to combat TB have saved an estimated 66 million lives. This year\’s theme “Invest to End TB. Save Lives” for World TB day, which takes place on March 24, conveys the urgent need to invest in resources to fight against this disease. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, TB deaths have increased significantly in 2020, reversing years of progress made in the fight to end TB.
The challenges in ending TB
Access to medicines remains one of the key elements that curbs the treatment of TB in many SADC areas. Countries such as Namibia and South Africa (which have the highest reported cases of TB per capita) still struggle to administer treatment to patients living in remote and rural areas. Despite government efforts to provide mobile health clinics and services, thousands fall through the cracks.
This makes it difficult to keep track of drug-resistant strains. By the time the patient reaches help, the infection has spread and mutated aggressively within communities. Government\’s efforts to provide grants to TB patients have helped significantly as the money is used for transport to collect treatment at the nearest accessible health facility. Ending TB requires a government program that functions every day of the year. That’s hard in certain parts of the world. Partly, this is because of who Tuberculosis affects – the poor and disenfranchised for the most part.
End TB stigma
TB stigma is still prevalent in African regions and more efforts to invest in educating both patients and communities should be tantamount in the investment portfolio of fighting against TB. African communities often shun people who are prone to disease and do not receive support from communities and local health facilities where they are harassed and humiliated for collecting medicines and carrying ‘Brown bags.” This causes patients to not return for treatments as they will be seen and known in communities for being “brown bag” carriers – a heavier price to pay than taking medicines, according to many African TB patients.
This in turn contributes to greater spread and more aggressive or resistant strains. To treat TB, patients must take several medicines for 6 to 9 months. It is very important that people who have TB take their treatment, and finish the course exactly as prescribed. If patients stop taking the medicines too soon they can become sick again. TB bacteria that are still alive can become resistant to medicines when they are taken incorrectly. Drug-resistant strains that are found in SADAC regions are harder and more expensive to treat.
What about vaccines?
Vaccines can revolutionize the use of medicines in SADAC regions. New technology could eliminate the stigma of “brown bags\’\’ by ensuring that patients receive treatment privately in single dose vaccine form. Investment in educating African communities about vaccines and development of TB vaccines could ensure that more treatment is administered and the scourge of TB minimized.