Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says the coronavirus pandemic has allowed the government to make important strides in the use of technology for health-care purposes, and they are now moving to ensure this is done for tuberculosis as well.
Johannesburg – Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says the coronavirus pandemic has allowed the government to make important strides in the use of technology for health-care, and they are now moving to ensure this is done for tuberculosis (TB) as well.
In so doing, Mkhize said that by leveraging some of the wins that have come from the Covid-19 pandemic, they were leveraging lessons to ensure the use of technologies for TB screening, contact tracing and treatment adherence.
This comes as the Human Sciences Research Council released a survey on Friday on the prevalence of TB in South Africa. The survey found that the country had a TB prevalence rate of 737 infections per 100 000, with the most affected group being men aged 35-44 and 65+.
Using an app called the TB Health Check app, the USSD code *134*832*5# or +27600123456 WhatsApp line (where users had to send the message ‘TB’), were some of the ways people could self-screen for TB.
“This app provides an easy way for everyone to screen themselves for TB. It guides users through a series of questions and then advises them whether they need a TB test or not,” he said.
Mkhize said more than 9 000 people had screened themselves on the app to date and 600 of those had been referred for a test.
“Just over 1 in 10 of those tested were found to have TB. These individuals are now on treatment. I would like to encourage people to use this service,” he said.
Mkhize said the impact of the pandemic on health services was not great for TB, and he said a lot of effort would be required to mitigate the negative impacts of Covid-19.
“We therefore need to look at innovative ways of providing health services in an integrated manner for efficiency,” he said.
Mkhize said some of the innovative ways they were looking at tackling TB included home delivery of medicines for patients by community health workers, and inclusion of TB medicines in the Central Chronic Medicine Dispensing and Distribution system.
They were also exploring the possibility of integrating the TB and Covid-19 testing by using Gene Xpert technology.
“The National Health Laboratory Service championed the use of Gene-Xpert for mobile screening and testing units early in the pandemic and this greatly increased our capacity to test using Gene-Xpert.
“This bodes well for a robust community screening and testing programme for TB,” he said.