The World Economic Forum on Africa opens Wednesday in Cape Town, South Africa. And one of the issues being addressed is tuberculosis and its new and stronger strains known as MDR and XDR-TB.
The forum’s Global Health Initiative says 70 percent of TB patients in South Africa are also infected with HIV, the AIDS virus. And while the country has less than one percent of the world’s population, it has 28 percent of the global number of HIV-positive TB cases.
As a result, the Global Health Initiative and the Lilly MDR-TB Partnership are launching a toolkit to help South African businesses deal with the problem. Lakshmi Sundaran is an associate director at the initiative. From Cape Town, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the scope of the TB crisis.
“One of the things, particularly in an area like South Africa -- tuberculosis, which is basically a curable disease, has been making a comeback. And one of the things we found, in the research that we had done at the World Economic Forum, looking at more than 10,000 companies worldwide…that about 85 percent of the companies in the sub-Saharan African region actually expressed some concern over the impact of tuberculosis on their core business,” she says.
TB and HIV, the AIDS virus, have a close relationship in South Africa and other African countries. “TB and HIV have a circular, negative relationship. Basically, when an individual has been infected with HIV their immune system is compromised and so they’re more likely to catch TB. And conversely, when someone has TB they’re more likely to go from just being infected with HIV to getting full-blown AIDS. So it’s a vicious cycle. While both pieces of it can be addressed, the TB part of it can actually be cured completely. And the HIV part of it can be managed through anti-retroviral treatment. So it’s actually possible to address this co-infection. But one of the things that we’ve seen historically is the incidence of tuberculosis has actually increased over the past decade or so because of this co-infection with HIV,” she says.
Sundaran explains the TB “toolkit.” She says, “The toolkit basically is aimed at companies in South Africa who want to do something about TB for their workforces but don’t really know how to go about it. So what we’ve done is we’ve taken all the scientific information, but also some really practical tips on how to put in place workplace programs and created easy-to-read fact sheets for employees, for medical personnel, who might be working in (company) clinics…but also for managers of companies. So we provide information on how to put in place the workplace programs…on why it makes sense for the company to put in place a workplace program… because basically the workplace is an ideal location to deal with TB in terms of educating workers on what TB is. I think there is generally a lot of stigma and fear around TB. And so to explain to people it’s actually a curable disease. But also because the treatment is long and requires daily medication, the workplace where people come every day is an ideal vehicle to actually administer that treatment.”