Deputy President David Mabuza has called on South African men to be counted in the nation’s efforts to end tuberculosis (TB) by getting tested.
“Unless men heed this call, the wellbeing of South Africans will forever hang in the balance,” he said.
Speaking during World TB Day in Mpumalanga on Wednesday, the Deputy President cited the results of the latest TB Prevalence Survey Report, which found that the infectious bacterial disease was 1.6 times higher in men compared to women in the country.
“Men must be encouraged to test for TB so that they get treated early before they spread the disease within their families and the entire community,” he said.
The Deputy President, who is also the chairperson of the South African National Aids Council (SANAC), acknowledged that today’s commemoration was like no other, as the world grapples with the impact of COVID-19.
He said the capacity, efficiency and effectiveness of national health systems continue to be strained by waves of infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
The national lockdown and movement restrictions, the Deputy President said, also contributed to the disruption of access to health services.
This has led to a reduction in the number of TB detections, as patient contact and tracing services became difficult during the lockdown.
“This pandemic has the capacity to erode the achievements and progress achieved to date in the fight against the spread of TB,” said Mabuza.
He acknowledged that the diversion of financial resources to fund the response to COVID-19 has posed a risks to the consolidation of global efforts to end TB.
“The deepening levels of poverty, malnutrition and unequal access to TB treatment and care may undermine efforts to meet global targets to end TB.”
According to the Deputy President, time is of the essence, as South Africa is counted among the 30 countries with a high burden of TB.
He has since called on citizens to rally behind national efforts to end TB and scale the national response by urgently finding, initiating and retaining TB patients in treatment and care.
“We should also work hard to regain those who have fallen by the wayside. Each one of us has a role to play in the fight to end TB.”
Meanwhile, he said government is still determined to fulfil the National Strategic Plan on HIV, TB and STIs.
In terms of this plan, Mabuza said government is targeting to diagnose at least 90% of all people infected with TB, while treating 100% of those who have tested positive, and decrease TB deaths by at least 30%.
“This year, the National Strategic Plan is nearing the finish line, yet the numbers, in terms of targets we had set for HIV, TB and STIs, remain stubbornly high.”
However, he told delegates that government is working tirelessly to reduce new infections from 450 000 to 315 000 per year.
Mabuza raised concern about the latest finding, which shows that 390 000 people became infected with the virus in 2018 in South Africa, while only 60% of them were diagnosed.
“This suggests that there is a large number of people who are walking around with the infection but are not on treatment. That is dangerous, considering that one person infected with TB could potentially infect a further 15 people.”
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said almost 50 000 people have succumbed to TB annually for the past three years.
The Minister said COVID-19 has disrupted not only people’s normal lives but also service delivery, and admitted that government is falling behind its treatment interventions.
Mkhize said government is working hard to improve communication around TB, civil society engagement, integrating TB, COVID-19 and HIV services, strengthening airborne infection control processes and exploring innovative ways to ensure treatment adherence.