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

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid