Despite being preventable and curable, tuberculosis remains one of the deadliest infectious diseases in the world.
Amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, World TB Day marked on 24 March was an occasion for the international community to call for more action to eliminate tuberculosis (TB) as a public health burden by 2030.
Global progress in TB prevention is lagging behind. According to the WHO, only one in five of the 30 million people targeted for access by 2022 have started a TB preventive treatment.
Every day, nearly 4000 people die from TB according to the WHO and close to 30 000 people fall ill with TB. In 2019, 10 million people suffered from TB and close to 1.5 million people — over 95 percent of whom were living in lower- and middle-income countries died due to the disease.
Last year alone about 30,000 Zimbabweans were diagnosed with TB. Zimbabwe has about 21,000 new cases of TB each year, and 3.1 percent of these are drug resistant. Six thousand three hundred Zimbabweans die of TB each year despite it being preventable and curable.
The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the problem and threatens to unwind the gains made over recent years.
Restrictions on movements resulted in sharp drops in TB case notifications in 2020 and limited access to TB treatments and services.
Through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) health workers ride motorbikes more than 1,000km a week over rough terrain to deliver TB lab test results to health facilities.
“USAID developed this transport system for TB and HIV specimens. This robust specimen transport system through riders on motorbikes carries about 150,000 specimens per year, 40,000 of which are samples for TB. This transport system has dramatically reduced the time it takes to receive test results down to one week in rural areas and one day in urban areas.
It allows TB patients to start treatment earlier, recover more quickly, and not spread the disease to others,” said USAID in a statement.
USAID has contributed long-term and substantial investments to the fight against TB in Zimbabwe, reaching hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans with life-saving health services.
“The United States is proud to stand with the people of Zimbabwe to address the issue of TB,” said USAID Mission Director Stephanie Funk. She added: “Together with our partners, USAID is working hard to ensure that TB patients can start treatment earlier, recover more quickly, and not spread the disease to others.”
Communities appreciate efforts made towards ending TB, a killer disease and highlight further action that is needed to defeat this life threatening disease.
In a statement Community Working Group on Health executive director Mr Itai Rusike said this year, the country marked the day amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which in 12 months has eliminated 12 years of Progress in the Global Fight Against TB.
“The response to the Covid-19 pushed aside tuberculosis outreach and services, resulting in 20 percent drop in diagnosis and treatment worldwide. TB remains a major obstacle to attaining the Sustainable Development Goal of health, development, and prosperity for all in Zimbabwe,” he said.
He highlighted that funding for research on TB in Zimbabwe was minimal, and new tools to prevent, diagnose, and treat TB were urgently required.
“There is a need to increase financing for TB prevention and care, innovations in care delivery, and research and development, including for new TB vaccines to prevent the development of Drug Resistant TB.
It is time to take urgent action to get back on track and accelerate collective efforts to fulfil the 2022 United Nations targets on TB to defeat the disease and save lives. The commitments made, and targets set by Heads of State and other leaders to accelerate action to end TB must be kept even in Covid-19 crisis and should be backed by adequate investments,” added Mr Rusike.
He said there was an opportunity to leverage Covid-19 infrastructure and investments to improve the TB response, integrate TB and Covid-19 testing and tracing, and strengthen efforts to overcome the barriers that stop people from accessing adequate health services.
TB continues to be the leading cause of death among people living with HIV, and about 70 percent of Zimbabweans suffering from TB are co-infected with HIV. Zimbabwe is one of only 14 countries around the world designated as ‘high burden’ by the World Health Organisation for TB, multi-drug-resistant TB, and TB/HIV co-infection.
This World TB Day 2021 emphasis was on that ‘The Clock is ticking’, and it is time for the Government, to fulfil commitments towards defeating TB.
The Government was urged to engage communities in planning and implementing strong, integrated TB and COVID-19 mitigation and response measures.