Statistically, tuberculosis (TB) is the leading cause of death in South Africa. In the Western Cape, more people have died from TB this year than from COVID-19. Premier Alan Winde has outlined a plan for how the province will combat this epidemic.

Speaking during a meeting of the Provincial Council on AIDS on Friday [November 6], Winde emphasised the Western Cape Government’s determination to beat the Tuberculosis (TB) epidemic. He said that the province will replicate the interventions taken to combat the COVID-19 pandemic to tackle other major challenges.

“TB kills more people in the Western Cape than COVID-19, and it deserves the same level of focus and determination. I intend to leverage this important council to achieve this objective,” said Winde.

Tuberculosis claimed the lives of 64 000 South Africans in 2018, according to the World Health Organization’s 2019 Global Tuberculosis Report. A total of 301 000 people were infected with the disease during that period.

According to data from the health department, the Western Cape Government registered a 48% decline in the number of people accessing TB testing services in June because of lockdown restrictions. While this has improved since a ramp up of healthcare services following the COVID-19 peak, the Western Cape is still registering a 36% decline in the uptake of testing compared with pre-COVID-19 data.

During the premier’s Special Address to the Provincial Parliament last month, he committed to a 90-90-90 TB strategy.

“We want to find 90% of all TB cases and place these residents on appropriate treatment. We want to find at least 90% of the TB cases in vulnerable populations such as with residents living with HIV and we want to successfully treat at least 90% of all those diagnosed with Drug Sensitive TB,” Winde explains.

“To do this, we will also adopt hotspot-focused, behaviour-change led approaches, similar to the ones we have used for COVID-19, to prevent the spread of TB amongst those most at risk.”

In line with these approaches, there have been a number of new innovations put in place to respond to the TB epidemic.

“After we learnt that diabetics were the highest risk during COVID-19, we introduced a telemedicine programme called Vector. This programme included a team of doctors keeping in contact with diabetic patients who had tested positive for the coronavirus. We are now going to roll out this programme to include TB. This will ensure high risk patients stay on their treatment regime.

“We will also leverage our community health care workers, who will screen for TB in people’s homes. This will be done with the support of proper data and monitoring systems that will allow us to track ‘hotspots’ and also fight these TB bushfires when they emerge.”

The Premier also indicated that he is particularly excited about lessons from medicine deliveries, which he saw for himself during the pandemic.

“We will continue to deliver medicines to people’s homes, and this will now ensure that stable TB patients receive their medication monthly. I was able to join a team of community health care workers delivering medicine in Langa a few months ago, and I was so impressed by the programme and the dedication of these workers.”

Testing will also prove important in the battle of TB, as was the case with COVID-19, and the province will make use of increased testing capacity in the TB response.

“The Western Cape Government received additional GeneXpert testing machines from the National Department of Health at the start of the pandemic to ramp up COVID-19 testing. As testing capacity eases, we will be also using this testing capacity in our response to TB.”

The Western Cape Government is also continuing with plans to allocate 30 beds at the Sonstraal Hospital for dedicated TB healthcare.

“Realising the dignity and wellbeing of our people, especially those who live in vulnerable communities, is a top priority for my government – and beating TB is essential to making this happen,” concluded Winde.

“You cannot have dignity if you are sick and are not cared for. That is why I am determined to get the job done in our fight against this epidemic, and to save as many lives as possible.”

Picture: Facebook / Premier Alan Winde

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