By Michael Olugbode
More than 500,000 people are lost in Africa to tuberculosis yearly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, who gave the figure in a message to mark the World TB Day 2021 with the theme: ‘The clock is ticking’, said that this inglorious statistics is “inexcusable”.
He lamented that across Africa, the challenges in TB prevention and control are significant with only 56% of people with the disease on treatment and TB control budgets continue to be drastically underfunded.
He said: “Governments in the African region are contributing 24% of these budgets on average and international organizations like the Global Fund are providing 34%, leaving a 42% funding gap. South Africa has the highest domestic funding in the region, at 77%.”
He further condemned the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded difficulties in accessing TB services.
He said: “For instance, in South Africa, monthly notifications of new TB cases fell by more than 50% between March and June 2020. In some countries, TB staff and testing equipment were reallocated to the COVID-19 response. At the same time, some mitigation measures were introduced, such as limiting the need for TB patients to visit health facilities by providing one month’s worth of TB medicines and using video messaging to continue with directly observed treatment.
“There is also the rising challenge of drug-resistant TB, which is estimated to affect 77,000 Africans each year. Among these, only one in three are diagnosed, and around 20,000 are put on treatment.”
He said collective action across sectors is crucial to address the challenges and accelerate progress towards ending TB by 2030.
He said WHO has developed the multisectoral accountability framework and is supporting all countries to update their TB policies and to implement WHO guidelines, and working with countries to monitor programmes in real-time, to identify challenges and advise on strategies to address them.
He said this year’s theme, ‘The clock is ticking’, is chosen because the TB response urgently needs to be accelerated to reach the targets set in the Sustainable Development Goals and to realize the commitments made by Heads of State at the first-ever UN High Level meeting on TB in 2018.
He lamented that there were an estimated 2.5 million TB cases in the African region in 2019, accounting for 25% of the global burden.
He said: “Today, I call upon governments and partners to bridge the financial gap for the TB response in Africa so that the region can get on track to reach the SDG targets for this disease, for the benefit of African populations and future generations.”