Zimbabwe scales up fight against TB

Locadia Mavhudzi, CNS Correspondent, Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe remains a country with a high burden of TB. It ranks amongst the world’s top 30 high TB burden countries, with the mining communities and prisons registering a high prevalence rate for this infectious disease. As the country joined the rest of the world to commemorate World TB Day 2018, the government showcased its significant strides towards reducing new TB cases and deaths.

Delivering the World TB Day message, Zimbabwean Health Minister, Dr David Parirenyatwa informed that more than 80% of TB patients in Zimbabwe are also infected with HIV. These patients were urged to take advantage of the free TB treatment and antiretroviral treatment (ART) offered in the various health centres across the country. He said that under this program, which started in 2017, a total of 44,626 people from 16 districts were screened, out of whom 855 were found to have TB. The government has also decentralized multi drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) diagnosis to district level, resulting in increased case detection.

Dr Owen Mugurungi, Director of Zimbabawe’s AIDS and TB Control Program, said that, “As a country we have scaled up our awareness campaigns and have made significant strides towards achieving our target of reducing new infections and deaths, in order to eradicate TB. However discrimination and stigma remain major challenges in our fight against TB.”

In line with the theme of having leaders who can champion for a TB free country, policy makers have been identified as important stakeholders.

To galvanize  political commitment, the National TB Control Program, with support from USAID’s Challenge TB, has prioritized engaging parliamentarians to ring fence domestic funding for TB from the AIDS levy.

A national TB caucus has also been established at parliamentary level and a new Public Health Bill has been drafted. This Bill takes into cognizance issues affecting Zimbabwe’s health sector, which include changes in diseases, epidemiology, and other health patterns.

Traditional leaders have been incorporated as champions of change in rural communities. Dr Mugurungi said that 60807 community members have so far been mobilized and screened for TB through engagements with local and traditional leaders.

“There has been a rapid scale up of new diagnostic technologies, such as the Gene Xpert machines and Line Probe Assay machines. The country now has a total of 129 GeneXpert and 3 Line Probe Assay machines, resulting in prompt diagnosis and treatment of drug sensitive TB as well as MDR-TB. In addition, with a view to improving treatment adherence and outcomes, the government has also adopted the use of new TB medicines, which include the roll out of shorter treatment regimes for MDR-TB”, said Dr Parirenyatwa.

Earlier this year, the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria , which is Zimbabwe’s major health financier, unveiled a three year funding grant of 500 million dollars for the country. Country Director for International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), Christopher Zishiri said that the new political dispensation in Zimbabwe is ready to scale up interventions in TB.

“We are optimistic that, as we move towards 2030, the new political dispensation is ready to improve domestic funding. Currently the health sector relies mostly on international funding. Their commitment to improve the overall health sector is good news for us. There is also need to lobby with the government to invest in research and development for TB, considering the evolving nature of the burden and the growing threat of MDR-TB”, he said.

Locadia Mavhudzi, Citizen News Service - CNS
April 11, 2018