Panic about the COVID-19 virus is worldwide, but very little is said about the 4 000 people across the world who die from tuberculosis every single day. And TB is both preventable and curable.
The theme of World Tuberculosis Day on March 24 is “It’s time” – time to step up the efforts of governments and communities to end the global TB epidemic. This can be done through commitment at all levels; ensuring that everyone has access to prevention, diagnosis and treatment; ending the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease; and providing enough funding for research.
South Africa is one of the eight countries that account for two-thirds of all new TB cases every year. Estimates are that, out of our total population of 58 million, 303 000 South Africans were suffering from TB in 2018. This disease is also still the main cause of death in our country – killing more people than HIV.
Factors which lower the immune system make people more susceptible to tuberculosis. They and include being HIV-positive, undernourishment, diabetes, alcohol use disorder and smoking. All of these factors are very prevalent in South Africa and contribute to our high TB infection rates
Furthermore, there’s still a lot of stigmas attached to tuberculosis and this often prevents people from seeking care. Those with active and untreated TB can infect 5 –15 others over a period of a year and have a 45% chance of dying from the disease if they aren’t also HIV positive. Untreated TB in those who are HIV positive is nearly always fatal.
You can help in the fight against the TB epidemic by educating others about the condition and encouraging those with possible symptoms to visit the clinic. The symptoms of TB are a persistent cough, sometimes with blood, a low-grade fever, night sweats, weakness, loss of appetite, and weight loss. These symptoms can be mild for a long time, causing a delay in seeking care while infecting others.
Furthermore, communities should hold their leaders and political representatives to account in ensuring that the necessary services are available to help end TB.