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

Video Obama to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President says US will take leadership role for a global response to deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging West Africa More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Spacei
X
September 17, 2014 4:20 AM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid