Tuberculosis (TB) continues to be a major challenge in Botswana, Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health (MoH) Shenaaz El-Halabi, has said. She said TB cases are increasing each year, from 7000 cases recorded in 2013, to 8400 cases in 2014. El-Halabi said the figures remain among the highest per capita globally, which translates to 414 cases per 100 000 people. This is equivalent to three times the global figures. She said Multi Drug Resistant TB is the one that complicates their response to TB because they confirm close to 100 new cases of multi drug resistant TB every year. To deal with this the ministry aims to conduct the national drug resistant survey in order to get a true picture of the burden of drug resistance in the country. “The MoH is committed to fight this epidemic. We will continue to strengthen our TB diagnostic capabilities,” El-Halabi said. She revealed that they have rolled out Gene Xpert machines across the whole country, which is a rapid diagnostic test that can detect tuberculosis in hours instead of weeks or months. This is expected to help initiate early TB treatment which can go along way in saving lives.
According to MOH about 63% of TB patients are co-infected with HIV. Because of this a TB/HIV framework was put in place in which TB patients are tested for HIV and vice versa to ensure that both epidemics are fought together. The ministry said a huge challenge that they face is treatment adherence and scaling up infection control practices in all their HIV care settings. “We still need to do more to engage our communities to meaningfully participate in the TB control interventions. The findings on the on-going study have shown that there is on-going transmission of TB mostly within communities,” she said.
Boingotlo Gasennelwe-the National Professional Officer for World Health Organisation (WHO) said it is important that the strategies for curing TB are adopted in line with human rights. She said their target is to reduce TB deaths by 95% from 2015 to 2035. Irene Kwape who works with communities through Botswana Christian Aids Intervention Programme (BOCAIP) pleaded with the ministry to include them in their budget to help fulfil their mandate. She said it is a challenge as they are forced to rely on volunteers for support which slows down public education as they go to churches, shebeens, schools and football matches in order to raise awareness on the disease. “There is lack of continuity in our programs and this is just as bad,” Kwape said.
TB ambassador Thabang Ramotsisi who has conquered Multi Drug Resistant TB said he was diagnosed with TB at Sekgoma Memorial Hospital. At the time he was on treatment at Gabane where he stayed. His condition deteriorated, he lost a lot of weight and was referred to the TB unit in Marina where he was found to have MDR TB. He was then hospitalised for six months. Ramotsis said since he had just graduated from school and was looking for a job, he feared that his dreams were over. “I am okay now and I am proud to be associated with TB and being the ambassador has really rebuilt my self-esteem,” he said. World tuberculosis day will be celebrated on the 24th of March in Francistown with the theme ‘Reach the three million’, with the main message ‘Reach, Treat, Cure Everyone’.