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Curbing rising tuberculosis deaths

HEALTH Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole, recently alerted the nation to the rising incidence of tuberculosis (TB)-related deaths in the country. Speaking at a commemorative event for the 2016 World Tuberculosis Day in Abuja, the minister revealed that about 250,000 lives are lost to the disease in Nigeria every year.

Poor diagnosis and non-notification of appropriate health authorities are major challenges to the battle against TB. Adewole explained that the 2015 Global TB report indicated that of the estimated 9.6 million tuberculosis cases globally, only six million had been detected and reported, leaving about 3.6 million either not diagnosed or diagnosed but not reported.

The minister observed that of this global group, Nigeria accounts for 15 per cent of the gap in tuberculosis case notification. The implication, he said, is that only one out of six tuberculosis cases are detected, thereby putting others at great risk of contracting the highly infectious disease.

This alarm on the rising incidence of TB is worrisome. The scary situation calls for concerted efforts of all tiers of government to stem the disease. Besides the alarm, the Federal Government should be in the forefront of the war against this debilitating illness.

Nigeria’s ranking as number four on the list of countries with the highest tuberculosis cases is regrettable. It is sad that our efforts in reducing the incidence of the disease in the country has not recorded much success as we only moved from the third to the fourth position on the list between 2015 and 2016.

We recall that during the events marking the 2015 World Tuberculosis Day, it was revealed that over 600,000 new cases of tuberculosis had occurred in Nigeria with 91,354 persons placed on treatment. The World Health Organisation (WHO) was also said to have ranked Nigeria number three among the 22 countries with the highest-prevalence of the infection.

Although TB is a life-threatening condition, the good news is that it is curable. Its diagnosis and treatment drugs are reportedly available at no cost in all the Directly Observed Treatment Short-course (DOTS) centres across the country. The WHO recognises that the operation of these treatment centres, which it recommended, is the most cost-effective way to stop the spread of TB in communities with a high incidence of the disease. The global health agency avers that DOTS is, indeed, the best curative method for TB.

Currently, Nigeria provides DOTS  services in about 6000 health facilities and diagnosis in 1,515 microscopy laboratories throughout the country. In addition, it has, apart from DOTS, embraced the new molecular technology known as GeneXpert, a machine that can diagnose TB and rifampicin-resistant TB within two hours.

Unfortunately, one of the constraints militating against tuberculosis treatment is the wide funding gap. For instance, in 2015, only 32 per cent of the $228 million required was realised, leaving a huge funding gap of $155 million.

It is, however, gratifying to note that the Nigeria government has made adequate provision in the 2016 budget for laboratory reagents, equipment and second line drugs for tuberculosis. We are equally glad to learn that the 2017 budget will have increased funding for interventions against tuberculosis in the country.

Therefore, the Federal Government’s resolve to treat affected populations such as people living with HIV/ AIDS, urban slum dwellers, male prisoners, migrants, internally displaced persons, nomadic citizens, children and diabetics is welcome.

We urge Nigerians to take this TB alert very seriously and improve the standard of public hygiene. The health authorities should harp more on this, and properly educate the people on the causes and symptoms of the disease, as well as where to access free treatment. They should ensure that such enlightenment messages trickle down to the grassroots.

Nigerians should be vigilant and guard against the disease because it is highly contagious. Those who have persistent cough should go for TB tests. Those who are found to have the disease should be educated on the need to stay the course of the treatment, which lasts several months.

The government, on its part, should remain consistent on the funding and free treatment of the disease. Its strategies for curbing the scourge should be continuously updated to ensure it remains in line with global best practices. That is the least that the government can do to check the spread of the disease and the high mortality associated with it.

This post was syndicated from The Sun News. Click here to read the full text on the original website.

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