International TB Day

SimangazoBy Simangazo Mokale

Very few people think of TB as a major health concern.  Yet TB continues to be the top infectious killer worldwide, claiming over 1.5 million lives per year, and despite significant progress over the past few decades, it is still a major problem in South Africa.

World TB Day is commemorated annually to take stock of how far we have come, and the theme for this year’s commemoration was “Yes! You and I Can End TB”. This message speaks to the importance of being accountable as an individual and as part of a collective, and it encourages individual action to contribute to the national effort against TB. 

The greatest contribution individuals can make to the fight against TB is to go to the nearest clinic and get tested for TB and HIV if you experience continuous coughing for more than two weeks, have unexplained weight loss, or suffer night sweats and fever.

TB can be prevented. Our health system screening, prevention and treatment protocols are designed to promote a long and healthy life for everyone in the country. Public health facilities have trained medical personnel that are on standby to test for TB and will also provide pre and post counselling. Additionally, patients with TB and HIV co-infection are treated through our integrated TB and HIV treatment in health facilities.

South Africa has made massive strides over the years in both treating and preventing TB, and with the right treatment TB can be cured. TB is curable even if a person is HIV positive, but it is crucial that persons stay on treatment for six months.  In South Africa we have a regimen of drugs that can treat and manage TB, multidrug resistant TB and extensively drug-resistant TB.

It has often been observed that patients stop treatment once they start to feel better, and this has given rise to multidrug resistant TB and extensively drug-resistant TB, which makes treatment harder.  

We call on everyone to join the fight against TB by regularly testing for both TB and HIV.  Your actions are also critical in helping to prevent the spread of TB. Cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water to minimise infection, and practice a healthy lifestyle, which will help to reduce the spread of TB.

Government’s TB programme is all encompassing and one of the main aims is to quickly diagnose the presence of TB using technology such as GeneXpert machines. Preventing the spread of TB is essential as one infected person can potentially infect several others each year. Quick detection allows us to treat patients sooner and to stop the disease from spreading. 

We should never forget that TB is preventable and can be cured, and that the first step to getting treatment is to get tested. All of us have a role to play in curbing future infections and by taking action we can begin to image a future without TB.  

Simangazo Mokale Assistant Director: Communication Resource Centre at Government Communication and Information System