500,000 undetected TB cases threaten control

Ismaila Umar, Abuja

Up to 500,000 cases of tuberculosis go undetected each year in Nigeria, creating a gap that could potentially threaten control of the disease across Africa.

According to the  World Health Organisation’s medical officer in charge of TB, Dr Ayodele Awe, “we are supposed to be seeing 600,000 every year, but for the past three years, we have been seeing 100,000.”

“There is a detection gap of 500,000 cases that our system is not detecting,” he said at a press briefing in Abuja organised by the Stop TB Nigeria Partnership ahead of a national TB conference scheduled for next week 17th to 18th, in Abuja.

“There is also coverage gap. How many facilities are actually providing effective TB service in Nigeria? They are still less than 70%, and several health facilities do not have effective TB service,” said Awe.

 Little knowledge

The conference is billed to address innovations in TB diagnosis and treatment.

Experts meeting at the conference will also deliberate on the low awareness of the disease among the public and even health workers.

“Our health workers do not often think of TB when somebody comes with cough,” according to Awe.

“The knowledge gap can be reduced by the media helping us to let everybody know the easiest symptom of TB. Persistent cough for two weeks or more could be TB.

Many health workers still think TB needs to be diagnosed through microscopy,” said Dr Mustapha Gidado, country representative of KNCV, which runs Challenge TB.

“With GeneXpert, patients can wait on the corridor to get their results in two hours, ” he said.

GeneXpert has been in use for nearly two years in some 200 service points, and the national TB programme is looking to make it the first diagnosis wherever it is available.

 Unlikely to control

Speaking on the concern of the likely control measure of the TB, the Executive Director of  Tuberculosis Foundation in Nigeria, Dr Mustapha Gidado, expressed concern that despite the national TB control programme helping to create over 1,700 points for diagnosis and more than 5,000 points for treatment of the disease, less than 15% of Nigeria’s TB burden is detected.

“If we cannot control TB in Nigeria, it is unlikely to control it in Africa and globally,” said Gidado.

A federal government strategic plan for TB spanning 2016 to 2020 is estimated to cost more than $2 billion.

Gidado said improved diagnosis using the plan could increase the number of TB cases detected to one million and in turn prevent some 35 million new infections.

“The cost will look very high but … over a period of five years, if you look at the amount of lives that Nigeria is going to save and also the amount of individuals that are going to be infected with tuberculosis, I think it is not as expensive as we think,” said Gidado.

Dr Odume Bethrand, senior programme specialist for TB/HIV at the US Centre for Disease Control, said Nigerian government and its people must work harder at raising awareness and services to stop TB.