Tackling Tuberculosis in Southern Africa

Article excerpt

Tuberculosis (TB), often thought of as a disease of the past, continues to plague the world's most vulnerable populations. The World Health Organization estimates there were 9.4 million new cases of TB globally in 2009; in the same year, 1.7 million people died of TB - equal to about 4,500 deaths each day. These dire statistics are even more dismal considering that TB is treatable and curable. The real problem lies in the fact that TB - including in its drug-resistant forms - is a complex disease, one which is not only a medical problem; it is also a social and economic problem. On the Southern tip of Africa, South Africa and the independent kingdom of Swaziland are amongst those countries bearing the brunt of the tuberculosis epidemic. South Africa reports almost 1,000 cases of TB per 100,000 people; and Swaziland carries an even heavier load, with over 1,200 cases in 100,000 people.

Volunteers for the South African Red Cross at the Nyanga Resource Centre in Cape Town. The volunteers give of their own time to visit the homes of TB patients to support them through a lengthy and sometimes difficult treatment regimen. They do this every day, despite possible adverse weather conditions, social upheavals, regional instability or personal conflict in their own lives.

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Agnes is 36 years old and lives in Gugulethu, a community about 25 km from the centre of Cape Town, South Africa. She was on TB medication, but stopped taking the pills when she began feeling better, and so developed multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB). She now visits her doctor on a daily basis, and is determined to stick to the treatment regimen prescribed, so that she can be cured.

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At the Gugulethu NY1 primary health care clinic, long queues often greet patients, and children wait with their parents and other patients, some of whom have active TB. They wear surgical masks to prevent them from becoming infected with TB.

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With a high incidence of TB, multidrug-resistant TB and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), information and prevention campaigns, like this one, are becoming increasingly evident in South Africa.

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In 1947, 48 nurses and doctors of Johannesburg's Sizwe Hospital (formerly Rietfontein Hospital) had no idea that the TB patient they were treating was a future Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. …