Health Dept goes on TB offensive

The health department is "changing its approach" from waiting for TB patients to come to hospitals and clinics, to going out and finding them.

"Our performance up to now has been fairly passive... We used to sit back and wait for people to come in, this is not how you can actually deal with a problem like TB," David Mametja from the health department's TB control and management unit said in Johannesburg.

"We want to move beyond clinics and hospitals and start looking for TB in the households," he told local and international media at OR Tambo International Airport.

The strategy

The strategy will start being rolled out in February.

About 1% of the South African population, or 410,000 people, contract TB annually. The infection kills more South Africans than any other condition.

South Africa has the world's third highest TB burden, behind India and China, who have less cases per 100,000 people and vastly larger populations.

"According to the differences in the sizes of our populations, we actually number one," Mametja said.

Multi drug resistant

Exacerbating the situation was the high prevalence of multi drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extreme drug resistant TB (XDR-TB).

Despite the country's TB problem, it detects 80,000 less cases than it should per year. The country's cure rate stood at 68%, while the World Heath Organisation expected 85%.

The cure rate for MDR-TB in South Africa was 50%.

According to the strategy, families and residents of those households with past TB patients would be screened for TB and also tested for HIV, with their consent. Health workers would also go to secondary schools in "hotspot" TB areas to test young people.

(Sapa/ January 2011)

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