COMMEMORATION OF WORLD TB DAY: ACCELERATE THE ROLL-OUT OF TB PREVENTIVE THERAPY
24 March 2022, Johannesburg – Today marks World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, and this year’s theme is: ‘Invest to end TB. Save lives.’ South Africa is one of the 30 high TB burden countries in the world. TB is also one of the leading causes of death in South Africa. World TB Day presents an opportunity to create awareness around an epidemic that is a grave reality.
The National TB Prevalence Study that was released in 2021 revealed that South Africa’s high TB burden includes a significant proportion of people with undetected TB, which implies a risk of ongoing transmission. One of the ways in which the spread of TB can be prevented is through the roll-out of TB Preventive Therapy (3HP and 1HP) to those who are at risk of contracting TB, including household contacts of persons who have TB and persons living with HIV.
South Africa is bound by commitments it has made to eradicate TB. In 2018 at the UN High Level Meeting on TB, amongst the States represented there, South Africa acknowledged that there is great urgency to step up health programmatic action and, together with other States, is committed to reaching at least 30 million people with TB preventive therapy before this year. Domestically, we have the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on HIV, TB and STIs that provides a strategic framework to tackle TB. Goal 1 of the NSP is to accelerate prevention and to reduce new TB infections, which requires the roll-out of TB preventive therapy.
In April 2021, the phased roll-out of TB preventive therapy initially began at six pilot sites but has now slowly spread to other districts across the country. For the roll-out to occur with minimal barriers, TB preventive drugs should be made readily available at all health care facilities in the country, health care workers must be sufficiently trained to dispense the drugs, contact tracing of those who were exposed to a person who has tested positive for TB must be emphasised, and there needs to be more awareness around the availability of TB preventive therapy and treatment.
In addition to the roll-out of TB preventive therapy, alternative measures should be taken to reduce TB infections. These include reducing poverty, improving TB diagnostics, and detecting and treating HIV. In line with this year’s theme, more resources need to be allocated to respond to TB so that the commitments that South Africa has made to the eradication of TB can be realised despite setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 saw the reduction of testing and treatment for a range of chronic illnesses, including TB.
As we commemorate World TB Day, we call on the State, and the National and provincial departments of Health in particular, to scale up the roll-out of TB preventive therapy, particularly around creating awareness on its availability, and to work towards its eradication.
SECTION27 also supports the Treatment Action Campaign’s call to declare TB a national health emergency, and pledges our support for the Treatment Action Group’s #RightToPreventTB campaign that makes use of social media resources to create awareness around the urgent need to scale-up TB preventive therapy.
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