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Government tackles TB

Written by Bathandwa Mbola
Government has launched a three-year mass tuberculosis (TB) screening campaign that will help to reduce the number of new infections and related deaths.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa inspects a TB screening machine. More than 200 health workers have been trained on drug resistant TB medication.Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi kicked off the screening campaign in the North West as part of World TB Day celebrated on March 24.

South Africa is the third most affected country in the world. The disease remains the number one killer in the country despite being both curable and preventable.

It is responsible for 120 000 deaths annually. Government wants to reduce this number to less than 20 000.

As part of the campaign, government will focus on key vulnerable groups with an elevated risk of TB infection. These include inmates in correctional facilities, mineworkers, communities in mining areas and children, especially those under five years.

“The poor socio-economic conditions that prevail in communities, especially poor housing and food insufficiency, provide a breeding ground for diseases such as TB, with children being particularly vulnerable,” said Deputy President Ramaphosa at the launch of campaign.

Early childhood development (ECD), the Deputy President said, can help to reduce infection among children and facilitate more effective detection.

Government also identified six priority districts for the screening campaign. These are Lejweleputswa in the Free State, West Rand in Gauteng, Sekhukhune and Waterberg in Limpopo and Bojanala and Dr Kenneth Kaunda in the North West.

The screening roll out will be done in phases. In the first year of this three-year campaign, Deputy President Ramaphosa said government will screen at least 135 000 inmates in correctional facilities and up to half a million mineworkers.

“In these six districts, we aim to screen around five million community members and 1.2 million children in schools, ECD centres and crèches.”

Government has already screened 59 000 inmates.

“This is a third of all sentenced offenders and awaiting-trial detainees. The programme is on track to screen more than 90 per cent by March 2017,” Deputy President Ramaphosa said.

The programme has also already screened 140 000 community members in the six districts. Nine inspectors have been appointed to assist the Department of Health to oversee the provision of TB services by the mines.

In the second year of the screening campaign, there will be an additional focus on metropolitan councils. In the third year, government will add the provinces of the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape on its target list.

In order to ensure that TB patients on treatment take to and complete their treatment as prescribed by health workers, government will start a system to trace patients lost to treatment and also the contacts of known TB patients.

Also, more than 200 nurses have been trained to start patients on drug resistant TB medication, at decentralised sites.

Currently South Africa has 298 of these decentralised sites.

The Deputy President said bringing services closer to communities will also be a focus during the campaign as it is more convenient to patients and results in better treatment outcomes.

The focus of the campaign, he said, is not limited to screening and treating TB.

“We are focused also on reducing infection. All South Africans can act to reduce the likelihood of infection,” said the Deputy President, adding that something as simple as covering your mouth when you cough can make a huge difference.