Testing and screening for TB back on track following Covid-19 disruptions - NICD

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Lebo Malatjie, a health counsellor from The Urum Institute testing a community member for HIV and TB.
Lebo Malatjie, a health counsellor from The Urum Institute testing a community member for HIV and TB.
PHOTO: Morapedi Mashashe
  • The NICD says the screening and diagnosis of TB has recovered from Covid-19 disruptions.
  • Testing and screening took a knock when the pandemic started.
  • To recover, the health department introduced the Targeted Universal TB Testing programme.

The Covid-19 pandemic dealt a blow to other healthcare issues, like the treatment of HIV/Aids and tuberculosis (TB).

This as resources had to be redirected from other programmes in order to help fight the pandemic.

Now, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) says, nationally, the screening and diagnosis of TB has recovered from Covid-19 disruptions.

According to the NICD, testing for TB dropped from April to August 2020.

As a result, the National Department of Health, guided by the NICD's monthly TB testing surveillance reports, implemented a TB recovery plan to increase screening, diagnosis, and treatment outcomes.

Through the plan, the department aimed to find undiagnosed people with TB through community screening via the Targeted Universal TB Testing (TUT) programme.

Higher testing volumes

The programme targets people at risk of TB, like those living with HIV, people who have had contact with people with TB, and those who have had the disease in the last two years.

A randomised study conducted in South Africa in which TUT was active was found to improve TB case detection by 17%.

According to the NICD: 

Test volumes subsequently recovered, remaining within forecast bounds between September 2020 and November 2021. Since December 2021, monthly testing volumes have exceeded the upper confidence forecast bounds through June 2022, resulting in 374 000 more tests conducted than forecasted in this 7-month period.

Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and Mpumalanga drove the higher testing volumes.

The NICD says nationally that the number of positive tests for TB has remained within the forecast bounds since October 2020.

"The percentage of testing positive has trended downwards close to the lower projection bound since February 2022. TB testing volumes have recovered from the Covid-19 disruptions and have exceeded the upper forecast bounds from December 2021 through June 2022.

"The decline in the percentage of testing positive suggests that at a national level, the Covid-19-related impact on TB testing and diagnosis has largely resolved, though provincial differences remain."

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