MIKE MUGALA, Lusaka
ZAMBIA records over 60,000 cases of tuberculosis (TB) annually and of these, 20,000 cases go untreated, according to the Ministry of Health.
Though the country improved TB treatment from 33 percent in 2013 to 60 percent in 2016, more still needs to be done to eliminate the disease.
The country’s status means that Zambia is lagging behind in terms of meeting the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) estimated target of treating 1,400 TB cases out of 100,000 recorded per quarter.
But Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya says Zambia treats 375 cases of TB out of every 100,000 cases recorded quarterly.
Dr Chilufya says TB is an emerging national public health threat which requires the concerted effort of various stakeholders to be eliminated.
However, with the recently launched Multi Drug Resistant (MDR) TB Ward at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH), Government is optimistic about reducing the rising cases of TB through enhanced treatment.
The K4.6 million ward, which was refurbished with the support of the American government, has a 54-bed capacity where patients with serious cases will be isolated for a while before being discharged.
Adult and emergency hospital medical superintendent Clarence Chiluba says the MDR TB Ward will go a long way in curbing the spread and rising cases of TB as patients will be isolated for about four to six weeks of treatment.
“The new facility incorporates various infection control measures, including fans to extract potentially infectious airdrops, germicidal ultraviolet irradiation to kill infectious TB particles, and personal protective equipment’’, he said.
Dr Chilufya said the ward which now offers more effective institutional care for patients with drug-resistant TB, is fully equipped to help ensure that both patients and caregivers are protected from cross infections.
He said treatment of MDR TB, which takes six to nine months and even two years in worst cases, will now be reduced as patients will be monitored to ensure that they take their drugs.
Normal cases of TB have been graduating to MDR TB because of the tendency by some patients to stop taking their drugs, Dr Chilufya observed.
For this reason, the Ministry of Health has embarked on door-to-door campaigns to raise awareness on TB.
And Dr Chilufya said Government has launched the National Health Insurance Bill to enhance local resource mobilisation to finance all health programmes.
“We have improved tuberculosis treatment from 33 percent in 2013, to over 60 percent in 2016. The MDR ward is a milestone in the fight and elimination of tuberculosis,” he said.
Dr Chilufya further said that eliminating TB requires more resources with the participation of various stakeholders, including donor support.
Meanwhile United States Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote says TB diagnosis in Zambia has improved with over 85 percent of the patients finishing their treatment.
Mr Foote commended the Zambian government on its stance in the fight against TB.
He noted that every district in Zambia now has at least one diagnostic centre with modern diagnostic technologies.
Mr Foote said through various partnerships and projects, including USAID Challenge TB, the American government has continued to fund the training of health care workers, staffing of health facilities, renovation of infrastructure, procurement of equipment and supplies, and supporting TB occupational research.
“Access to diagnostic service for TB has improved. At least, every district in Zambia now has a treatment centre and is capable of treating one case. The American Government has since 2004 contributed over US$ 180 million to the fight against TB through United States Agency for International Development (USAID),” he said.
He urged the Zambian government to enhance domestic resource mobilisation and funding to the health sector to reduce cases of TB.
Mr Foote said despite impressive gains, Zambia is still struggling to identify and treat cases of drug-resistant TB, with only a quarter of cases being identified.
He said the US government will continue to partner with Zambia and its neighbours to accelerate the elimination of TB.
“The US Government is honoured to be a partner in Zambia’s success towards TB control,” Mr Foote said.
Drug-resistant TB fight scaled up
MIKE MUGALA, Lusaka