TB fight goes high tech

2011-03-25 00:00

THE Health Department has turned to modern technology to fight tuberculosis (TB).

Yesterday Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi unveiled the GeneXpert diagnostic machine at Prince Mshiyeni Hospital in Durban.

This is part of the department’s intensified case finding initiative launched in February in eThekwini Municipality, one of the areas worst hit by the disease.

Another part of the plan is to establish centres to accommodate multi-drug resistant (MDR) and extreme drug resistant (XDR) TB patients around the country.

The Global Fund has donated R100 million to the country for the establishment of these centres.

A centre at the Catherine Booth Hospital in Uthungulu District Municipality with 40 beds is 90% complete. The R13,2 million centre will accommodate 20 male and 20 female patients in private en-suite rooms so as to minimise the chances of spreading the infection among patients.

The GeneXpert machines are capable of giving a TB test result within two hours. Previously diagnosis took four to six weeks.

The machines were sponsored by the United States, and the department has spent R54 million so far, with 54 lab technicians trained to use the machines.

The machines come in three diferent sizes, capable of testing 48, 16 or four samples at a time.

Dr Motsoaledi said each TB hotspot in the country has been allocated a size 16 machine, while 20 small machines are scattered throughout the country. Prince Mshiyeni received the only large GX48 machine.

South Africa has a large TB challenge, with one in every 100 people having the disease.

“Per 100 000 people there are more with TB in our country than in the most populous countries like China and India. We know that 80% of HIV deaths are caused by TB. Starting today we will be able to diagnose those with active TB more quickly and we will ensure that patients get started on treatment more rapidly,” said Motsoaledi.

“Patients will no longer have to return to clinics for results as they will wait for two hours and know their TB status,” he added.

TB mortality, resistance to treatment and ongoing transmission has been attributed to diagnostic delays and the department believes that reducing this delay through the use of these machines can reduce the mortality by five to 15%.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION representative in South Africa Dr Stella Anyangwe commended the country for the effort it has been taking to fight TB and for the acquisition of the machines.

“TB is the major communicable disease in the world with the African continent accounting for 20 to 30% of notified cases. Resistance to the first and second regiment of treatment is rising. This calls for technological innovations to acquire new vaccines. In November 2010 WHO has endorsed the GeneXpert as an innovation to revolutionalise TB control,” said Anyangwe.

The department is also working on a smart phone technology project that will enable healthcare workers to keep track of TB patients.

The project is in its initial stage and will be targeting areas with high rate of TB infection. The aim is to have a centralised information system that will create a visual database of households around the province complete with socio-economic data, health profiling and GPS co-ordinates, which will allow healthcare workers to monitor progress and health outcomes on patients.

Patient data will be kept on smart phones and healthcare workers will be able to identify those who interrupt their medication.



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