The cold, hard fight against TB in SA

TB bacteria
TB bacteria

South Africa, Cape Town in particular, is sadly no stranger to the misery brought by tuberculosis (TB). There are approximately 450 000 new cases of this respiratory disease each year, which means that just under 1% of the population gets infected.


Though the South African government and organisations like the South African National Tuberculosis Association (SANTA) have worked tirelessly to combat it, the disease persists.

One of the worst features of TB is that it hits the poor especially hard. This is why Living Hope, a multi-disciplined healthcare NGO in Cape Town, is combating the disease by delivering presentations at children’s clubs, early childhood development centres and parent meetings and forums. They do door-to-door campaigns and outreaches at taxi ranks, workplaces and clinics.

Read: TB remains leading killer

“Our target is to reach at least 5 000 people every month with TB-in-children-focused information,” said Avril Thomas, who heads up the TB operation at Living Hope.

This will see the group handing out TB-in-children informational leaflets, sharing general TB education and sharing the inspirational stories of those who have been cured of TB.

While there is a cure for TB, it requires sufferers to go through a lengthy and difficult treatment programme. There is also a very real danger of reinfection, and the growing prevalence of a strain of the disease that is resistant to treatment, has made combating it increasingly difficult.

TB is curable

“This is why preventing infection is growing in importance and those tackling it must work together more closely. “With winter upon us the message of TB prevention and treatment is absolutely vital. We are partnering with the Aurum Institute in an Orphans and Vulnerable Children’s programme where TB screening of every client is done every month,” said Thomas.

Its partnership with the institute is paying off as it has led to monthly TB screening and TB education service to over 1 500 children and their caregivers. “Our desire is to get the message out that TB is curable and so community members who have been in contact with TB sufferers need to go to the clinic to get screened and to be aware of the possible risks of contracting TB – especially children,” she said.

Read: TB diagnosis breakthrough

TB cannot be beaten through any single effort and that is why at an event on World TB Day on March 24, Living Hope invited a broad range of people to talk about how it affected their lives.

This saw Dr Sisulu Moyo presenting a keynote speech as well as a group of children marching and chanting “Child TB must fall”. One of the most touching things of that day was how grandmother Hilary Adonis and her grandson inspired all with their story of how, at the age of two, he was diagnosed with multi-drug-resistant TB and how they as a family supported him to full recovery.

It was a good day in the campaign but more can still be done. “Taxi owners need to enforce the rule that the taxi windows need to be open at all times when driving. Parents should be more responsible by taking their children to the clinic if they know that their children have been exposed to someone who has had active TB. All around it really is everyone taking responsibility,” said Thomas.

Homes underwater

Though preventative action can be taken, combating TB can be really difficult – especially in winter. Thomas is not blind to this challenge, noting that there are some particularly wet and cold areas in the communities they serve, such as the Masiphumelele Wetlands and Overcome Heights.

“The floors of these homes are literally under water 3-4 months of the year, resulting in damp and cold. In homes that lack ventilation this becomes an ideal breeding ground for TB. The close proximity of these houses to each other also plays a pivotal role in TB spreading.”

Read: TB and the girl next door

Even so, there are signs that collective efforts are paying off, as there has been a definite increase in awareness of TB in children amongst staff and in the surrounding communities, said Thomas.

“The clinics have also reported an increase in child contacts coming to the clinic, and then finding that some of the children do have TB. These have been put on treatment, which is exactly what needs to happen. TB can be cured – those with TB just need to understand that they need to complete their medication.”

Read more:

What causes TB?

Vitamin C leads to TB breakthrough

Stellenbosch professor gets international TB award

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