Nigeria: Ending the Tuberculosis Scourge

A South African patient prepares to take her medication for drug-resistant TB.
26 September 2018

The World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed recently that 18 Nigerians die every hour from tuberculosis which means that at least 420 Nigerian lives are lost daily to the preventable and curable ailment. On this, Nigeria is the second most burdened country in Africa and seventh in the world.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs. Compared with other diseases caused by a single infectious agent, tuberculosis is the second biggest killer globally. Tuberculosis is contagious, but experts say, most people with active TB who have received appropriate treatment for at least two weeks are no longer contagious.

The revelation was made by WHO's Country Representative, Dr. Wondimagegnehu Alemu, represented by Linda Ozor, at Public Private Mixed Summit for Tuberculosis Control in Nigeria, organised in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health and the Lagos State Ministry of Health.

According to the WHO representative, the situation is complicated by the undetected cases in the country, stating that out of four cases, only one is detected.

He said, "In most cases, the highly infectious disease is transferred from these undetected cases because those that have been detected have the potential to be successfully treated. Each missed case has a potential to infect 15 other persons per year. That is why we must intensify efforts to find all missed cases in Nigeria for proper management. That way, the prevalence of the disease and the high death rate from it will greatly reduce."

According to him, another factor that contributes to the high incidence of the disease is the near absence of mitigating effort from the private hospitals. Records have showed that although millions of Nigerians access healthcare in private hospitals, only 14 per cent of private health institutions collaborate with the National Tuberculosis Programme to tackle the disease.

Though we acknowledge the need to reexamine the data given to us by foreign agencies, we feel that this revelation in particular appears to be serious. It is indeed a very sad narrative and grim setback to the country's much-vaunted campaign against tuberculosis and other curable diseases.

We should wake up to this reality and realize the extent of the danger we are facing. To control the disease and reduce its impact, we need to deepen the National tuberculosis programme at all levels and widen the involvement of private establishments in the exercise. By doing so, we will have more people accessing treatment. We must also continue to create awareness on prevention and treatment of the preventable disease.

As well, we concur with idea that every state should have a strategic health plan with involvement of all stakeholders and all arrangements should key into the national plan.

Also, we applaud the Federal Government for implementing some initiatives to curb the disease by procuring the new TB diagnostic machine called GeneXpert MTB/RIF and made available in 390 health facilities in the country. Even though commendable, we think that more needs to be done so that patients who require the GeneExpert test could have effortless access to the machines. Furthermore, with recent reports showing that about one-third of the world's population is believed to have latent tuberculosis and there is a 10 percent chance of latent TB becoming active, patients that coughed for more than two weeks ought to be screened, and if diagnosis is positive, they should receive free treatment.

The efforts to control and eradicate this ailment should be intensified. All hands must be on deck and we must move beyond beautiful speeches to action.

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