News / Africa

Activist Group Calls on S. Africa to Declare TB a Public Health Emergency

FILE - A doctor examines chest X-rays at a tuberculosis clinic in Gugulethu, Cape Town, South Africa, Jan. 17, 2014.
FILE - A doctor examines chest X-rays at a tuberculosis clinic in Gugulethu, Cape Town, South Africa, Jan. 17, 2014.

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
A leading activist group is calling on the South African government to declare the country’s tuberculosis epidemic a public health emergency. The Treatment Action Campaign made the plea this week at South Africa’s fourth TB Conference in Durban.
 
Listen to De Capua report on TB in South Africa
Listen to De Capua report on TB in South Africai
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

The Treatment Action Campaign says TB is the leading cause of death in adults and children. Marcus Low, the group’s head of policy, said, “South Africa has the highest TB infection rate on the planet. Though in terms of absolute numbers, China and India have higher numbers. But when you take the size of our population into account South Africa has the highest rates and that is largely drive by our high HIV rate.”
 
HIV attacks the immune system, making people more susceptible to TB infection. However, while TB is closely tied to HIV, it has not generated the same response.
 
“HIV is a disease that had a significant footprint in the U.S. and Europe. So there was a lot of drug development. But TB is really a disease of poor countries. So we don’t have the same investment in research and development. We’re really facing a pretty serious crisis in South Africa. We have in the region of 450,000 new infections every year. And it’s the number one cause of natural death in South Africa,” he said.
 
The Treatment Action Campaign gained prominence in South Africa in the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It helped wage a major legal battle against the government and drug companies to make antiretrovirals more available.
 
Low said, “We want to see the same kind of widespread social mobilization that we had around HIV around TB. Now, in some ways it’s a bit more complicated because with HIV if you provide people with treatment -- and they take -- they get well. With TB there are many more social factors that make it much harder to deal with.”
 
One of those social factors is TB among South Africa’s prison population.
 
“We have a lot of overcrowded correctional facilities in South Africa – and often filled with over 200 percent occupancy. So that creates the ideal environment for the spread of TB and of course drug resistant forms of TB. So to deal with something like that it’s not just a matter for the department of health. It’s a matter that the department of justice has to look at how many people we are incarcerating – and the prison system has to be reformed to insure that we have better infection control,” he said.
 
Some of the very first cases of drug resistant tuberculosis were found in the eastern rural town of Tugela Ferry in KwaZulu-Natal Province. The province was also the heart of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The World Health Organization announced in late 2006 that a deadly new strain was found there and labeled it XDR-TB or extensively drug resistant TB.
 
“In South Africa, the rate of normal tuberculosis – drug susceptible tuberculosis – seems to be stabilizing. But the really worrying thing is that the rate of drug resistant tuberculosis is going up. And indications are most of these cases are not people who are developing drug resistance. Instead they are infected with strains of TB that are already resistant. You know, that’s extremely worrying. We simply don’t have very good treatment for drug resistant TB,” said Low.
 
The treatment is long and often not successful.
 
“At the moment it takes about two years to treat someone. There are severe side effects. They have to take something like 14,000 pills in that time and six months of weekly injections. So it’s the one area where we really don’t have an answer. Part of the problem is that TB has become a disease of poor countries, poor people. And for that reason the pharmaceutical industry does not really invest in TB research anymore,” he said.
 
Mortality rates for multi-drug resistant and extensively drug resistant TB are very high. It’s estimated 50 percent of those diagnosed with XDR-TB in 2010 died.
 
Activists and researchers have said that because TB drugs are not profitable, research funding may have to come from organizations like the Gates Foundation or TB Alliance.
 
South Africa’s National Strategic Plan for HIV, STIs and TB does list tuberculosis as a priority. And the country’s health minister is scheduled to address the TB conference on Friday.
 
But Treatment Action Campaign’s Marcus Low said it can be difficult getting a national strategy implemented on the local level.
 
“South Africa has nine provinces. And these provinces have significant autonomy in what they do. So whereas national policy may be good, these policies may not be implemented in the various provinces. That’s the one kind of problem we face. The other thing is that if to want to fix the problem of TB in prisons, as I explained earlier, you need other government departments to get involved and that unfortunately hasn’t been happening in recent years.”
 
Low said diagnosing and monitoring the TB epidemic have been a problem. There is new technology for rapid diagnosing called GeneXpert. But it currently looks at resistance to only one drug. And since South Africa still heavily depends on paper record keeping instead of digital, Low said the epidemic may be worse that currently thought.
 
South Africa has been getting more HIV infected people on treatment. That also offers an opportunity to screen them for TB.
 
In its call for a TB public health emergency, the Treatment Action Campaign says, “We can continue to let people die of preventable TB, or we can act with urgency and determination to defeat it.”

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid