March 24, 2023

World TB Day: Africa records 26% reduction in deaths in 6 years



… Urges govts, others  to foster resilient health systems to meet SDG by 2030

By Chioma  Obinna

As the world marks this year’s World Tuberculosis, TB,  Day, the World Health Organisation, WHO, says the African region has achieved  26 percent reduction in TB deaths.

In her message to mark the day,  Regional Director of WHO in Africa, Matshdiso Moeti said the region is now on the threshold of reaching a 35 per cent of TB death reduction.

Noting the 26 percent reduction happened between  2015 and 2021, she noted that seven countries— Eswatini, Kenya, Mozambique, South Soudan, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia have reached a 35 per cent reduction in deaths since 2015.

However, across the region, the challenges in TB prevention and control are significant: 

“First, the delayed diagnosis and testing. There is still a notable gap between the estimated number of new infections and case notifications of TB: 40 per cent of people living with TB did not know of their diagnosis or it was not reported in 2021. 

“One million people are living with TB in the region and have not been detected.

“Second, the link between TB and HIV. Approximately 20  per cent of people newly diagnosed with TB are also living with HIV infection. 

“Third, the multi-drug resistant TB. In the African region, only 26 per cent of all people living with multi-drug resistance are receiving the appropriate treatment, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshdiso Moeti said.

Moeti in his message expressed delight that Member States are increasing the uptake of new tools and guidance recommended by WHO, resulting in early access to TB prevention and care, and better outcomes. 

She further noted that in the African Region, the use of rapid diagnostic testing has increased from 34 per cent in 2020 to 43 per cent  in 2021, which will improve countries’ ability to detect and diagnose new cases of the disease. 

“It is particularly important to find and diagnose cases of TB so that the patients can be treated, and their contacts offered preventive medication. Nigeria is an example of a country that managed to significantly increase national TB case finding by 50 per cent in 2021 using innovative approaches such as the expansion of the daily observed treatment protocols, use of digital technologies, Community Active Case Finding, and enlisting Public Private Mix initiatives.” 

She explained that TB requires concerted action by all sectors: from communities and businesses to governments, civil society and others. 

She said: “We must work together to develop innovative approaches to reach vulnerable populations and ensure that they have access to quality TB care and management.”

She further disclosed that the second UN High-level Meeting on TB in September 2023 will provide a rare opportunity to give global visibility to the disease and mobilize high-level political commitment to end TB.

She stressed that ending TB is feasible with the decline in TB deaths and cases, and the elimination of economic and social burdens associated with it.

 Moeti urged leaders, governments, partners, communities, and all stakeholders to urgently foster the resilient health systems required to accelerate the TB response so that Africa can meet the Sustainable Development Goals targets by 2030. 

“Yes, we can end TB in our lifetime.”

In 1882, when Robert Koch discovered Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the microbe that causes tuberculosis, the disease sent shock waves throughout the world. Transmitted through droplets from sneezes, coughs, or talking, tuberculosis killed the rich and poor alike. In the century that followed, TB (short for tuberculosis) has been forced to retreat thanks to antibiotics and a vaccine that protected infants, and vibrant campaigns. Today, wiping it out completely is within reach.

The World TB Day is commemorated yearly on March 24 to raise public awareness about the devastating health, social and economic consequences of this preventable disease and call for accelerated action to end it.

This year’s theme is “Yes, we can end TB,” highlighting the need to ensure equitable access to prevention and care, in line with our drive towards Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. 

In 2021, with a clear roadmap, the WHO in the African Region showed that it is possible to reach – and even surpass –the first milestone of the End TB Strategy (20% reduction by 2020), with a decline rate of 22 per cent in new infections since 2015. 

WHO says through their technical support, leading advocacy, and effective partnerships, enormous progress has been made over the past decade, especially in the East and Southern African Regions. High-burden countries, like Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia have surpassed or reached the 20 per cent  target of reducing new TB cases.