Govs Seek Measures to Combat Tuberculosis Spike

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•Disease kills 500,000 yearly in Africa, says WHO

By Chuks Okocha and Michael Olugbode

Governors yesterday called for urgent steps to arrest the rising cases of tuberculosis in Nigeria.

The governors, under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), in a statement to mark World Tuberculosis Day, said 18 Nigerians die daily from the disease, and urged the federal government to support states to meet the target of eradicating the disease by 2030.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also put the fatality rate in Africa per year, due to tuberculosis at over 500,000 people.

The NGF, in a statement by its Chairman and Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, listed Nigeria as one of the countries with the highest burden of the disease, ranking first in Africa and sixth globally.

While joining the rest of the world to commemorate World Tuberculosis Day, the governors said: “This day provides the opportunity for the entire world to intensify public awareness about the devastating health, social and economic impact of tuberculosis, as well as renew our commitment to accelerate efforts at the national, state, local government and community levels to eradicate TB in Nigeria.

“Tuberculosis is an airborne disease that affects millions of people regardless of socio-economic status. Though it is preventable and curable, it has remained the deadliest infectious disease globally.”
Fayemi said over the last decade, the government and its partners had implemented various interventions to ensure that people with the disease were found and treated.

“The advent of COVID-19 pandemic and its control measures in 2020 further impacted on the health system, including TB services, setting back progress made,” he said.

Fayemi stated that despite the setback, the governors in partnership with other stakeholders are working to address the challenges by strengthening the capacity of State TB Programme to be more effective in its role; support revitalisation and upgrading of health facilities to provide appropriate TB services especially diagnosis; and mobilise more domestic resources for the TB programme.

According to him, the governors will support and mobilise activities in the states and to establish a multi-stakeholder State Stop TB Partnerships, in accordance with the theme of this year’s World TB Day – “The Clock is Ticking.”

The governors reaffirmed their commitment to work with other stakeholders to end TB in their respective states.

They also called on the federal government to support the states to domesticate and achieve the targets and commitments made at the United Nations High-level Meeting on Tuberculosis held in 2018.
They said with these targets and commitments, Nigeria would be expected by 2022, to be back on track in its efforts to ensure an end to TB by 2030.

WHO, in a message to mark the occasion, stated that tuberculosis kills over 500,000 people yearly in Africa.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said this inglorious statistics is inexcusable.

He stated that across Africa, the challenges in TB prevention and control are significant, adding that only 56 per cent of people with TB are on treatment, while TB control budgets continue to be drastically underfunded.
He said: “Governments in the African region are contributing 24 per cent of these budgets on average and international organisations like the Global Fund are providing 34 per cent, leaving a 42 per cent funding gap. South Africa has the highest domestic funding in the region, at 77%.”

He added 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 per cent 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 called for collective action to address the challenges and accelerate progress towards ending TB by 2030.
He said WHO had developed the multi-sectoral accountability framework and supported all countries to update their TB policies and to implement WHO guidelines.

WHO is also 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,” was chosen to urgently accelerate the TB response to reach the targets set in the Sustainable Development Goals and to realise 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 per cent 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.”