On World TB Day SAFTU calls on government to declare TB a national health emergency!

Today, the 24th March is World TB Day commemorating the devastating economic and social consequences of this illness. SAFTU fully supports the call by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) to declare tuberculosis (TB) a national health emergency.

Despite the preventable and treatable nature of this disease, tens of thousands of people die of TB every year. A massive 58,000 people died from TB in 2019 and 36,000 of those were people living with HIV.

TAC has proposed essential steps that can be taken to curb the spread and fatality of TB. These must be taken up by government with the utmost urgency. We fully support the TAC’s calls that:

  • Everyone to be screened for TB every time they go to the clinic.
  • All people living with HIV with signs and symptoms of TB or advanced HIV disease receive both a urine-LAM test and rapid molecular test.
  • Anyone with a cough of any duration and other high-risk groups, including previous TB patients and their household contacts be tested for TB.
  • The State to set ambitious testing targets and find and treat those who are not accessing care to stop the spread of TB.
  • Digital chest x-rays, urine-LAM, and other diagnostic tools be used to ensure early diagnosis of preclinical TB in patients.
  • More health workers, particularly those dealing specifically with TB, and more community healthcare workers on the frontline of the TB response be employed urgently.
  • Government amplifies targeted interventions to reach men, as this group is less likely to get tested or access healthcare but are also 1.6 times more likely than women to contract TB.
  • Government double efforts aimed at societal behavioural change through a radical, targeted communications strategy.
  • Government and funding agencies to ensure that all best practice TB infection control measures are adhered to in all clinics and other public buildings.
  • A Standing Committee on TB in Parliament be established.
  • Government recommits to the targets set in the UN High Level Meeting on the fight against TB, including on increased financing and prioritising vulnerable and marginalised populations.

SAFTU condemn the chronic underfunding of the healthcare system and particularly the most recent cuts in budget allocation for the healthcare system, particularly the reduced spending on buildings and infrastructure as well as equipment. In the 2021 National Budget, an estimated R5.8 billion will be diverted over the next three years from HIV, TB and Malaria Conditional Grants to fight Covid-19. While fighting the Covid-19 pandemic is a priority, the fact is that the number of people who have died from Covid-19 so far is the same number that die from TB in South Africa every year! HIV and TB remain devastating pandemics in South Africa and funding towards fighting these should be a priority.

We cannot afford healthcare cuts when public hospitals and clinics are already in precarious positions. It is public knowledge that our public clinics and hospitals are understaffed and overcrowded. This is compounded by chronic infrastructure shortages. The majority of our people who access these services have to wait in long queues for healthcare from overworked nurses and doctors who, facing undue pressure, are often not able to provide quality care people deserve. We need to make sure that preventable deaths from TB are eradicated. To do this we need to make sure the steps proposed by TAC are immediately introduced and clinics and hospitals are adequately funded to ensure prevention as well as vital testing and treatment.

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