By Marcus Fatunmole
President Muhammadu Buhari has appealed to nations across the world to engage more technologies and other resources needed to combat the menace constituted by tuberculosis to humanity.
The president made the call while addressing the virtual Roundtable Conference of the Board of the “Global Stop TB Partnership on Thursday.
He said tuberculosis, otherwise called TB, remained one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide.
Buhari however expressed worry over the effects of COVID-19 on global efforts to contain the disease and other killer ailments.
He said COVID-19 crisis had made it imperative for global leaders to collaborate more and work with their people to tackle TB and other diseases with all available resources.
“As I mentioned during the UN High Level Meeting in 2018, it is now even more urgent that the global community, especially the African region, act in unison with rededicated efforts, using the latest available technology and tools to address the TB epidemic.
“Nigeria still ranks amongst those countries bearing the brunt of an increasing burden of TB with a growing number of missing TB cases.
“The reversal of Nigeria’s difficult health indices, remains a top priority of this administration, including the gap in TB case detection, fuelled partly by the dearth of acceptable, accessible, affordable and patient centred basic health facilities,’’ the president, who also addressed the roundtable session of Ministers of Health, during the 33rd Board Meeting of the Global Stop TB Partnership, said.
He cautioned that if nations fail in the fight to reverse the current trend in TB prevalence, the disease would continue to fight humanity and result in avoidable loss of lives, especially among the economically productive age group, and among most vulnerable groups, especially women.
“It is imperative that we not only commit to ending the TB epidemic as one of the milestones enshrined in the SDGs, but also to institute an accountability element to ensure that our commitment translates to achievement of desired results,” the president stated.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire has said TB remained a major public health challenge in the WHO African region, with the region accounting for 25% of people who developed the condition in 2019.
He said Nigeria had the highest TB burden in the region.
Addressing Ministers of Health from African Countries at virtual 33rd Stop TB Partnership Board Meeting, the minister noted that significant number of TB cases were still not detected and put on treatment.
According to him, the region also faces a high number of drug resistant TB cases.
“In 2019, about 83% of TB deaths among HIV-negative people occurred in the WHO African and South-East Asia regions; these regions accounted for 85% of the combined total TB deaths in HIV-negative and HIV-positive people,” he said.
He urged nations to do all within their means to find all missing TB cases and provide high quality patient-centred care and treatment for all TB patients including children and other key populations.
This, he said, became imperative because the world has two years more to achieve the UN High Level Meeting (UNHLM) target for 2022.
“We need to urgently scale up access to TB preventive therapy (TPT) and support innovations and researches for ending TB epidemic in our respective countries,” he pleaded.
He said Nigeria had made progress towards achieving the set UNHLM targets, noting that for the first time in 2019, the country recorded a 13% increase in TB notification, with 77% of the UNHLM target for TB notification achieved.
In addition, 74% of the UNHLMN target for PLHIV placed on TB preventive therapy was also achieved in 2019, he argued.
“The advent of COVID-19 pandemic eroded on some of the gains made in the TB control efforts with some available domestic resources in most countries channelled towards addressing this current pandemic.
“Nigeria being one of the epicentres of the pandemic in Africa, recorded a slight dip in TB notification at the height of the pandemic which may affect overall TB notification in 2020. The FMOH, (Federal Ministry of Health) in order to address the impact of COVID19 on TB, rolled out various guidelines to enhance integration of TB case finding activities into COVID19 control measures and ensure continuity of TB and other services during the pandemic.
“The engagement of state governments to support expansion of diagnostic network for COVID19 pandemic led to the procurement of GeneXpert machines by some state governments. The GeneXpert machines are being used for the diagnosis of COVID19 and TB,” he added.
The minister appealed to his colleagues to consider HIV as one of the major factors fuelling TB epidemic in the region.
He said majority of the 208,000 deaths among PLHIV in 2019 occurred in Africa.
“Even though we have made progress in our region in the implementation of TB/HIV collaborative activities with 86% of the TB patients having documented HIV status, a lot still need to be done in finding the missing TB cases among PLHIV, improving access of HIV-positive TB patients to ART and improving the coverage of TB Preventive Therapy (TPT) services among PLHIV,” he said.
In her remarks, First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari said as a Global TB Champion and Ambassador, Nigeria had increased its case-finding and expanded its treatment coverage after the United Nations High-Level Meeting in New York in 2018.
Quoting a modelling study conducted by Stop TB Partnership on the impact of COVID-19 on TB, Mrs Buhari said global TB incidence and deaths in 2021 would increase to levels last seen in between 2013 and 2016 respectively, “implying a setback of at least 5 to 8 years in the fight against TB, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The objectives of the roundtable meeting are to review the progress towards reaching the United Nations High-Level Meeting (UNHLM) TB targets in the African region, reflect on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on TB response and together develop priority actions and financial investment needed to accelerate TB response and attainment of TB target in the midst of COVID-19 era.