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The Covid-19 pandemic has slowed progress in the battle against TB in Africa – WHO

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On World Tuberculosis Day 2022, the issue of underfunding for TB prevention and treatments in Africa has been brought to the fore as the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to roll back progress made on the continent.

Tuberculosis (TB) bacterium primarily affects the lungs. Image: Supplied.

ON WORLD Tuberculosis Day 2022, the issue of underfunding for TB prevention and treatments in Africa has been brought to the fore as the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to roll back progress made on the continent.

Underfunding for TB programmes has a significant impact on disease detection. That is why this year’s World TB Day is themed “Invest to end TB. Save Lives”.

An assessment by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that globally, deaths from TB rose for the first time in a decade.

In Africa, 549,000 deaths were reported in 2020, an increase of around 2,000 from the previous year.

“The number of newly detected TB cases also fell in high-burden African countries due to disruptions by the Covid-19 pandemic on health services,” according to WHO in Africa.

Executive director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/Aids (UNaids) Winnie Byanyima said that when Covid-19 hit, global attention on HIV and TB shifted to tackling the new pandemic.

“This has meant lives needlessly lost and important targets missed for HIV, TB and other diseases. Urgent action and increased investments are needed to get us back on track,” said Byanyima.

TB is caused by an airborne bacterium that usually infects the lungs. However, it can infect any part of the body, including the kidneys, spine and brain. The bacterium spreads when an individual infected with TB coughs, sneezes or talks.

Globally, 17 of the 30 high-burden TB countries are found in Africa. It is estimated that in 2020, 2.5 million TB cases were recorded, accounting for a quarter of the global burden.

In the same year, half a million African lives were lost to the disease, which is curable and preventable.

Under the WHO End TB Strategy, countries should aim to reduce TB cases by 80% and cut deaths by 90% by 2030 compared with 2015.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), South Africa has over the past decade made significant progress in turning the tide by adopting the WHO-recommended diagnostic technologies and therapies for both prevention and management to reduce the burden of the disease.

The NICD states that there are three fundamental components to turning the tide on TB. These include creating awareness of the disease, promoting health-seeking behaviour, and rallying the support of communities and stakeholders behind TB prevention programmes.

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