The time is now to end Tuberculosis


By Hajjarah Nanteza

In this global scare, media is awash with the outbreak of the COVID-19 given the magnitude of its spread across the globe and the number of deaths registered daily. As we lament this calamity, let us not forget the everyday societal struggles we face due to the spread of Tuberculosis.

Similarly, fatal, this bacterium is responsible for the loss of over 4,000 lives each day according to the World Health Organization and close to 30,000 people are infected with this preventable and curable disease. Compared to COVID-19, TB has a cure, 58 million lives since the year 2000 have been saved as per the World Health Organisation.

Ranked among one of the world’s deadliest airborne diseases, Tuberculosis spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes and someone else inhales the expelled droplets, which contain the bacteria. A lot of similarities with how the COVID-19 spreads, shared spaces like homes, schools, public transport, waiting rooms or even churches can be transmission hotspots.

Majorly two classifications of TB common in Uganda are the Drug Sensitive and Drug-Resistant cases. Many times, drug-resistant cases are caused by inadequate treatments including the use of wrong or inadequate medications. Inconsistent adherence to medication or not finishing the full treatment is another cause of drug resistance. The treatment period for drug-sensitive TB is six months but many patients quickly give up midway degenerating into resistance to drugs.

Treatment of Drug-Resistant TB requires second-line drugs which in general are more toxic and much more expensive than first-line drugs. More so, treatment for this type can run for 9 months to 2 years, compared to the 6 months if handled at an early stage.

Fortunately, the drugs for TB are free and available to all at least in government health centers. It is mainly behavioral challenges that are still keeping TB in our country.  As we have embraced the awareness and prevention of COVID-19 lately, lets equally be vigilant about the spread of TB by embracing the same hygiene practices and getting the full treatment.

Same as COVID-19, its everyone’s responsibility, let us be on the lookout for suspected cases and report them to our local area leaders for linkage to health care. When linked to care then we support them to complete their treatment. The good news to us all is that when one is on treatment for 2 months and continuously adheres to treatment, that case is not contagious. However, sharing a space with a Drug-Resistant case, not on treatment or not adhering well has a risk of transmitting the same resistant strain which comes with all the challenges mentioned earlier. This time a heavier burden is shared with a larger population.

If COVID-19 is wreaking havoc to supposedly healthy victims, what can happen in countries where we still have TB like Uganda. As we pray that this new strain is contained quickly, it’s wonderful to note how everyone has positively responded to the mass sensitization and awareness currently in place towards COVID-19. Applying the same vigilance, we will be saying goodbye to TB as this one is already here and already highly spread.

The prevalence in urban centers is so high further exacerbated in congested areas like slums.  According to the performance review report, October- December 2019, by Defeat TB – Tuberculosis case notification out of the 6 divisions in Kampala district, Nakawa division alone identified 310 cases taking 76% of the 1,584 cases identified in Kampala district alone. 

Stigma in the communities and poor drug adherence due to denial is still very common.

Similar infection control measures like; coughing etiquette (covering the mouth or coughing in the inner side of the elbow), use of masks for the confirmed cases, avoid open spitting, proper ventilation and aeration at places of work, home, and all shared spaces, seeking medical attention in case of signs and symptoms will help break the chain of this spread.   

Common signs and symptoms of TB include; coughing for more than 2 weeks or any cough irrespective of the duration in HIV positive patients, body weakness, joint and chest pains, low appetite, excessive night sweats, evening fevers and weight loss among others. Due to ignorance, some Ugandans experience these signs and symptoms but remain at home putting the rest of their families at risk of contracting the disease.

As we commemorate World TB day 2020, lets equally take it upon ourselves as our individual responsibility to be our brothers’ keeper. Sensitize the communities where we live, notify health workers and local leaders about suspected cases plus support those on treatment to adhere and complete the same. It’s an equal society problem we should not forget.

The writer is the Project Officer Defeat TB project Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS Initiative.

As published in The NewVision online Newspaper on 25th March 2019.

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