The Stop TB Partnership has released a new global plan to tackle the rapidly growing TB burden which is now said to be worsening. The plan has tailored ways to address one of the largest epidemics which are found in South Africa.
Approximately over half a million people get sick with tuberculosis (TB) in South Africa annually. The plan speaks to areas of concern such as prisons, where this airborne disease is known to thrive.
Forty four-year-old Nomonde Thomson is currently serving a four year sentence at Pollsmoor prison.
Only weeks before her incarceration, Nomonde says she began feeling weak and was experiencing severe chest pains. Speaking to Nomonde outside the health centre within the high walls of the Pollsmoor prison, she explains how she found out about her TB infection.
“The first time I was coughing then after that I was losing weight and I didn’t know why I was losing weight. When I got here they said I should go for TB screening, so when I come back they said I've got a TB, then after one week I'm going to start my TB treatment. They said they were going to treat me for six months after six months and they will discharge me.”
Policy intervention for prisons across the country states that it is now mandatory for all inmates to be screened for TB on admission to the facility every six months and upon release.
Nomonde was also screened for TB upon arrival at the facility. Like many others serving time behind bars, she had little knowledge about the lung disease.
“I didn't know that I'm sick because while I was outside I was not, when I got here they said I have TB.” Nomonde has since successfully completed her TB treatment and is cured of the disease.
“I’m feeling well now and see now.”
Prisoners remain vulnerable to TB; research shows that South African prisons have the highest number of people infected with TB compared to the general population in many countries.
“It’s very important for interventions in prisons because the rate of tuberculosis in prisons is generally much higher than in the general population in a country. So what happens is that if we don't attack the issue in the prison. When these people leave the prison, it puts the community, their families and friends at risk,” says Chief Scientific Advisor for the International Union Against TB and Lung disease Dr Paula Fujiwara.
According to Fujiwara, the Stop TB Partnership global plan will go a long way towards tackling the rapidly growing TB burden in prisons.
“The global plan to end TB is a plan for the next five years as the world approaches the end TB strategy in 2035. What is important is that we identify a key population in this case prisons, where I have mentioned that the rate of tuberculosis is very high. So you have special interventions in these areas to ensure that we identify the cases and ensuring that they receive treatment and actually complete treatment so they are cured. “
Minister of Health and Chairperson of Stop TB Partnership, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has cited overcrowding and poor ventilation in prisons as some of the challenges in the fight against the disease. However, he says some strides have been made in the country and in prisons.
“Well what is encouraging is that we are now covering all the corners. We are looking for TB and finding it. In the past we were waiting for a person to get sick now we know even those who don't know that they are sick, we pick them up and start treating them. That means that before they get very sick, before they start getting symptoms, that is very important but also the overall deaths from TB in the whole country in South Africa has tremendously come down.”
This global plan takes on a more community centred approach of scaling up health services and integrating TB care into the health systems.
With an ambitious goal of ensuring that 90% of all people including those at highest risk are diagnosed and treated. The plan also seeks to ensure that 90% of people diagnosed successfully complete treatment. This plan is already working in South Africa.
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