Maintain the momentum in addressing TB during the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa

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We have seen how the world has come together to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is imperative to ensure that essential services and operations for dealing with the long-standing health problems such as TB continue, so as to protect the lives of people with TB and other diseases. Providers of essential health services, including national programmes to combat TB, need to be actively engaged to ensure an effective and rapid response to Covid-19, while ensuring that TB services are still maintained.

According to The World Health Organisation (WHO) in an Information Note released on 12 May 2020, modelling work suggests that if the Covid-19 pandemic led to a global reduction of 25% in expected TB detection for 3 months — a realistic possibility, given the levels of disruption in TB services being observed in multiple countries — then we can expect a 13% increase in TB deaths, bringing us back to the levels of TB mortality that we had five years ago. The WHO further estimates that between 2020 and 2025 an additional 1.4 million TB deaths could be registered as direct consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Patrick Lungu, TB Programme Manager in Zambia, elaborated on how Covid-19 in Zambia has negatively affected TB indicators. “Since the notification of the first two cases of Covid-19 in Zambia on March 18 2020, modification of service delivery was initiated in response to the outbreak,” says Lungu. “This resulted into a low turnout of patients in the outpatient department, resulting into reduced number of presumptive TB cases being identified; inadvertently, TB notifications plummeted,” he stated.

Below are the recommendations on how to maintain momentum in addressing tuberculosis during the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa:

Lungu said that putting the patients, family and community needs at the centre is critical in sustaining the interventions. “Involvement of the patient in planning the care schedule is important to ensure success of the measures, while a steady supply chain is the heartbeat for sustaining TB service provision in the era of Covid-19,” he concluded.

Dr Saili Patrick Lungu is the National Tuberculosis and leprosy Programme Manager at the Ministry of Health Zambia. Zambia is one of four implementing countries of the Southern Africa Tuberculosis and Health System Support Project. The World Bank funded project was launched in 2016 with the aim of strengthening the health sector’s response to Tuberculosis and occupational lung diseases. It is implemented in four Southern African Development Community Member States: Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. The African Union Development Agency  and the East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community collaborate to provide technical support in project implementation in the participating countries. For more info: https://satbhss.org/

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