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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs