THE TUBERCULOSIS SCOURGE
Government could do more to contain the disease
Tuberculosis, better known by its acronym TB, still constitutes a major health problem in Nigeria. This much was brought to the fore last week by the Kaduna State Tuberculosis, Leprosy and Buruli Ulcer Programme which recorded fresh 4,474 cases of the disease. It is unfortunate that despite being a vaccine-preventable disease, statistics from the World Health Organisation reveal that every year, about 245,000 Nigerians die from TB, while about 590,000 new cases occur. Indeed, the WHO has ranked Nigeria first in Africa and sixth globally on TB prevalence.
It is on record that the WHO 10-year strategy (2006-2015) to cut down the burden of TB in the world worked in many countries as it reportedly saved some 37 million lives while some countries succeeded in halving the prevalence of the disease. But in Nigeria, the reverse is the case. The greatest problem in combating the disease is the prevalence of Multidrug Resistance Tuberculosis (MDR-TB). The other challenge is rooted in poor diagnosis. Available reports indicate that many cases of tuberculosis are not diagnosed, and even when diagnosed, they are not registered for tracking.
However, there are other challenges. To say the least, government efforts on research has been peripheral ever since the disease became a heavy burden for the country. Yet research ought to be a focal point in the fight to combat tuberculosis since with such efforts, a whole lot can be achieved in finding measures to prevent the disease. The Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) should do more in that regard. Also, Nigeria’s government funding mechanism has not been effective enough to contain the high cases of the disease. Much of the funding of tuberculosis has been predominantly from foreign donors.
What that says very clearly is that the federal government has not shown enough commitment to fighting the disease. That perhaps explains why the Direct Observed Treatment Short Course (DOTS), a global method for treatment of the disease, has not been funded by the government. Also, availability of TB microscopy laboratory services is still in short supply, thereby weakening the preventive strategies set aside to tackle the disease. These are the existing gaps that have held back the elimination of tuberculosis for years in the country.
Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium which most commonly affects the lungs and transmitted from person to person through air droplets. But it is a curable disease, but that is dependent on early detection and correct diagnosis aided with proper treatment. Sadly, many patients afflicted with TB do not complete the therapy while others do not even make themselves available for treatment. Yet failure to complete the treatment and the mismanagement of drugs has led to the death of many patients and the increase in variants of the disease that are drug-resistant.
On the whole, we enjoin government, at all levels, to fight TB with more seriousness. There should be a more workable plan to address many of the gaps that have encumbered the fight against the disease. Focusing on prevention, diagnosis, tracking and treatment are important while there is an urgent need for government to invest more on research on TB as a strategic way to a put a stop to its spread. The NIMR could be empowered to go into advanced research on the subject that unravels the mystery surrounding Nigeria’s high incident cases. An actionable plan that focuses on research, tracking and treatment is also very critical to taming the rise of TB in Nigeria. Health authorities must take the challenge seriously.