Activists call on government to declare TB a national health crisis

Though TB is preventable and treatable, more than 50,000 people died of it in South Africa in 2022

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Photo of protesters

Hundreds of health activists marched to the Department of Health in Pretoria, calling on the government to ramp up efforts in the fight against TB. Photo: Masego Mafata

Hundreds of people marched to the Department of Health in Pretoria on Wednesday, demanding that government step up measures to deal with tuberculosis (TB) in South Africa.

Led by organisations including the TB Accountability Consortium and the Treatment Action Campaign, the protesters called for TB to be recognised as a national health crisis.

Despite being preventable and treatable, the disease claimed the lives of over 50,000 people in 2022, according to the World Health Organisation.

Anele Yawa, TAC secretary general, said it was important that government roll out its TB Recovery Plan for all districts of South Africa. The recovery plan was implemented in 12 districts with the highest prevalence of HIV and TB in the country between April 2022 and March 2023, as an emergency intervention to address disruptions to treatment and prevention during the Covid pandemic.

A lack of awareness about TB and how to treat it means many people are defaulting on their medication, said Yawa.

Among the challenges is a lack of screening at clinics and hospitals upon arrival, leaving people to risk infection while waiting in queues, he said.

Yawa said patent laws were making it difficult to roll out “more effective, affordable” TB treatment which could shorten patients’ treatment.

Sihle Mahonga Ndawonde, TB Accountability Consortium project officer, said because of cost-cutting it was not clear how much money would be allocated to TB services.” She said budget cuts cost people their lives.

A memorandum read out by TAC chairperson Sibongile Tshabalala called on government to “ringfence” funding allocations for TB services and the TB Recovery Plan.

The memorandum called on the deputy president of South Africa, as chair of the National AIDS Council (SANAC), to ensure that the commitments made in the National Strategic Plan for HIV/TB & STIs 2023–2028 are realised.

The memorandum was received and signed by Ramphelane Morewane, acting deputy director general at the department.

“We will respond in writing in the next seven to 14 days. I can assure you of the department’s commitment to work with civil society forums to address all your needs,” he said.

TOPICS:  Civil Society Health TB

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