At least 16 people have died of tuberculosis (TB) in Makoni District since January this year as government moves to co-opt both traditional and faith healers in concerted strategies to tame the high burden of tuberculosis and HIV in the country.
This was revealed by Makoni District TB Coordinator Bernard Murambiwa Mahwe during a recent media tour to various TB treatment centres in Manicaland province.
"On sensitive TB, as of January to April, we had 101 cases of patients who were initiated on treatment but out of 101 cases, we have so far recorded 16 deaths," during a stopover at Makoni Rural District Hospital on Thursday.
"These 16 are those who died while they were admitted in hospital.
"As a district, we are around 16 percent death rate; we are very high of which the target should be less than 5 percent. When we are doing our valuations we are seeing that most of these (deaths) are late presentations to the health facilities."
Mahwe said according to the district's death audit, most of those who succumbed to the treatable disease were co-infected with HIV.
"As a district, we are advocating that these cases are investigated early, brought to the clinic early and started on treatment early," he said.
The media tour was conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and Child Care's National TB Program (NTP) in collaboration with the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) with support from USAID.
Meanwhile, government, with support from partners, has intensified efforts to try and reduce the high TB incidence in Manicaland in what has seen the recent training of traditional healers, faith healers and community volunteers on ways to detect early signs of the airborne disease.
Some 80 Makoni community volunteers and a combined total of 40 traditional and faith healers recently went through separate training in Chipinge.
Chipinge District TB Coordinator Michael Muponda said the training of only 40 non-clinical healers was "a drop in the ocean" in a region best known for being a bastion for traditional medicine.
"Sensitisation of faith healers and traditional healers is a major issue because they are also service providers in the community and first consultation during illness sometimes is to a faith healer. So we want them to appreciate issues of TB," Muponda told journalists during a stopover at St Peters Catholic Mission Hospital in Checheche, Chipinge South.
Muponda said traditional and faith healers were far more than nurses in the district and it was evident they took care of the greater part of the population in the border district.
The move to rope in traditional and faith healers in efforts to combat TB was announced earlier during the year by deputy director of the HIV, Aids and TB Unit in the Health and Child Care ministry, Dr Charles Sandy who said poor locals would first try to seek help from traditional healers and religious leaders before turning to hospitals.
At 67 percent prevalence among HIV/Aids patients in the last three years, Zimbabwe is among the 30 high TB/HIV burden countries in the world, with an estimated 30,000 cases reported annually. Of these, 6 percent are childhood cases.
It is however possible to eliminate TB among those co-infected with HIV.