The World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania reduced new TB cases by 20%, although overall progress in the African region remains slower than the milestones set for 2020.
Commemorating World TB Day, WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said the day is a stark reminder of the significant burden of this disease despite the existence of effective control interventions, and with Covid-19 in the midst, this is an attack on the lungs.
“This is why the WHO has developed the multisectoral accountability framework, and is supporting all countries to update their TB policies and to implement WHO guidelines. We are also working with countries to monitor programmes in real time, to identify challenges, and advise on strategies to address them,” stated Moeti.
To better protect TB patients from Covid-19, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Namibia is supporting the Ministry of Health and Social Services to put in place measures to help reduce patient exposure to Covid-19 infections in healthcare facilities.
This is particularly worrying during the time of the pandemic as both TB and Covid-19 affect the lungs. As TB patients already have damage to their lungs, there is a risk that they will experience more severe breathing challenges if they are also infected with the Covid-19 virus.
“The ministry was already scaling up community services, and since the Covid-19 pandemic, we have worked hard to roll out these services faster. Community healthcare services are more convenient for patients who need medicine refills and other simple support services,” stated Albertina Thomas, head of the National TB programme at the health ministry.
She said the pandemic has brought many changes which are here to stay, and that would require interventions such as digital technology to support TB treatment adherence.
Thomas added: “Providing more services in the community is something we will continue post-Covid-19.”
A further problem related to TB is the fact that HIV positive patients are at increased risk of TB infection. It is important to reduce this risk, particularly during the time of Covid-19.
A Covid-19 preventative measure to the above-stated issue is the prioritising and identification of HIV positive patients who need to take a course of TB preventative therapy (TPT), a medicine that reduces the risk of TB infection.
Community healthcare workers are also working hard to identify any other person who should be given TB preventative medicine. For example, if a person with TB is living in a household with children under the age of five, these children will also be given this medicine.
This will help to protect people from being more vulnerable to the symptoms of Covid-19 infection if transmission starts in the community.
“We are doing everything we can to reduce exposing vulnerable groups to Covid-19 infections. HIV positive patients can do their part by asking about TPT if they have not yet been given this medicine, and when they are given the medicine, making sure that they take the pills every day for the whole six-months’ period. By reducing the risk of TB infections, HIV positive patients will also help protect themselves from developing the most severe symptoms of Covid-19 infection, if they catch the virus,” said the CDC.
One of the development partners supporting the health ministry to identify and manage patients who need to receive TPT is the International Training and Education Centre for Health of the University of Washington (I-TECH/UW).
“We are pleased to continue providing direct services and technical support to the ministry during these challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic. With the MoHSS’ resources stretched to the limit, I-TECH is committed to continue our support. We need to prevent a backlash of diseases like TB and HIV/AIDS after Covid-19 has passed. It is, therefore, hugely important that services for these conditions must continue without interruptions,’’ said I-TECH country director, Dr Norbert Forster.