One of Nigeria’s major partners in the fight against tuberculosis, KNVC Tuberculosis Foundation, has expressed fears over worsening cases of tuberculosis (TB) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Executive Director of the foundation, Gidado Mustapha, said there is an urgent need to strengthen TB case finding in the country.
Mr Mustapha, who spoke at a virtual media briefing on Monday, noted that with the impact of COVID-19 on health services, over 6.5 million TB cases could be recorded in the near future.
He said it is crucial to challenge the status quo and bring new innovations to address the overall impact of COVID-19 on tuberculosis response and other health services.
“The impact of COVID-19 on tuberculosis is overwhelming. The pandemic has adversely affected tuberculosis control, management and treatment,” he said.
Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that most often affect the lungs.
TB is spread from person to person through the air. When people with lung TB cough, sneeze, or spit, they propel the TB germs into the air. A person needs to inhale only a few of these germs to become infected.
The COVID-19 virus, which has infected over 24 million people globally, has disrupted human activities and overshadowed other health issues across the globe.
Nigeria remains one of the 30 countries globally with the highest burden of the disease. Nigeria also ranks first in Africa with the highest number of undetected cases.
TB is one of the vaccine-preventable killer diseases which is also curable. Nigeria ranks high among countries with a high burden of TB, TB/Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and multidrug-resistant TB.
In 2019, the World Health Organisation reported that eight countries – India, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and South Africa – accounted for two-thirds of new TB cases globally.
Nigeria comes third behind only India and China in terms of tuberculosis cases.
Statistics from the UN health agency also show that every year, around 245,000 Nigerians die from TB, and about 590,000 new cases occur (of these, around 140,000 are also HIV-positive).
Strengthening health system
Mr Gidado reiterated the importance of strengthening Nigeria’s health system.
He called for stronger partnership, adding that it is crucial to find mechanisms for collaboration towards ending tuberculosis.
“Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa, are finding more TB patients. These countries have functional health systems. The countries that are doing well in TB control are tied to the functionality of their health system.
“Go back to strengthening and collaboration between vertical collaboration and coordination, we need to strengthen the health system,” he said.
Mr Gidado said KNCV was presently working in more than 20 countries, providing either direct or indirect support services.
He reassured Nigerians of its continuous support in the fight against the disease.
“I will like to assure our colleagues that Nigeria is not the only country that is going to be benefiting from KNCV services, of course, they have benefited for over 10 years, we will continue to provide these services across the globe,” he said.