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Wed Oct 22 17:32:40 SAST 2014

SA has high TB prevalence

NIVASHNI NAIR | 25 March, 2011 00:460 Comments
KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi launch the GeneXpert TB detection machine at Prince Mshiyeni Hospital in Umlazi.
Image by: TEBOGO LETSIE

Anyone who believes the Department of Health is exaggerating the problem of Aids and tuberculosis is living in a "fool's paradise", Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said yesterday.

South Africa ranks highest on the list of 22 high-burden TB countries, Motsoaledi said in Durban, on World TB Day.

"If TB and Aids are a snake, then the head is in South Africa while the tail is quickly moving to other African countries. And if the head of the snake is in South Africa, then the teeth are in Durban," he said.

One in 100 South Africans has TB.

"South Africa has a large TB challenge. There are [proportionately] more people with TB in our country than in the most populous countries, such as China and India," said Motsoaledi.

"We know that the TB epidemic is being fuelled by the HIV epidemic - these epidemics are two sides of the same coin."

He chose Durban for the launch of the government's latest salvo against TB because eThekwini has the highest number of TB cases in the country: 45000.

As part of the government's response to the TB pandemic, the municipality in February launched door-to-door visits to screen and counsel residents.

Since the beginning of March, 67 teams have visited 18000 families in KwaZulu-Natal and 60000 people have been screened for TB.

"There are about 407000 people in South Africa with TB," said Motsoaledi.

"I stand here today saying that, on World TB Day 2012, at least half of them will have been visited.

"The battlefield is out there, so I would rather have empty hospitals with nurses doing their job out there. This is what primary healthcare is about."

He said Africa's first new technologically advanced tuberculosis diagnosis machine, GeneXpert, which he inaugurated yesterday, would complement the door-to-door visits.

The machine is able to diagnose TB in 120 minutes and multidrug-resistant TB in six to eight weeks. In the past, patients had to wait for up to five months for their results.

"At present we do 4.6million smears and 950000 cultures annually. This is possibly the largest number of smears and cultures for TB of country," said Motsoaledi.

"[The use of the machines] means that we will increase the diagnosis of TB and therefore find more people with TB.

"It means that [patients] do not have to return to a clinic for the result and, if positive for TB, they can be started on treatment immediately."

The machines, which cost the department R53-million, will be introduced across the country over the next 18 months. - nairn@thetimes.co.za

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