The TB Accountability Consortium launched its annual State of TB in SA report

TB remains a highly infectious illness and a leading cause of death worldwide. Ahead of World TB Day on Friday, 24 March, the TB Accountability Consortium has formally released the second State of TB report, titled Tackling governance gaps to improve care.

Speakers pertinent to the launch included Mabalane Mfundisi; Ngqabutho Mpofu; Dr. Gesine Meyer-Rath; Prof. Renier Coetzee; and RHAP colleagues Russell Rensburg, Sihle Mahonga, and Zimbini Madikiza. 

Introducing the report, RHAP director, Mr Rensburg highlighted RHAP’s mission of promoting, protecting and realising the right to health in rural communities. Rural communities are particularly at risk due to high levels of poverty and long distances to health facilities in the unique implementation context, as evidenced by available health management information, which shows that TB notification and cure rates in rural districts are much lower than national averages. The TB Accountability Consortium is an initiative of RHAP that seeks to strengthen accountability in the implementation of TB programs.

The 2022 Global TB report estimated that over 300 000 new people acquired TB in 2021. Of these between 174 – 181 000 people were diagnosed with TB, suggesting that over 120 000 people who acquired TB were not initiated into lifesaving TB care. Communities’ involvement in shaping the TB response at local district and provincial levels is essential to addressing this gap.  

The Treatment Action Campaign has been a leading force in health user driven advocacy. He was represented by Mpofu, a policy, communications, and research manager who complimented the consortium on the report and emphasised the need to continue the fight by putting the work on paper and generating more interest in the work being done. He explainedthat Ritshidze collects data on TB prevention, TB infection control, and TB prevention services. “The data is very valuable and always tells us the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he said. “In quarter one of collecting data, we assessed 391 facilities around TB issues. We have assessed 382 facilities in quarter two.”

According to the data gathered, only about 55% of patients were questioned about TB symptoms. Only 40% of those polled reported being offered TB prophylactic medication in the previous year, according to Mpofu.

To address these findings it is no longer enough to just hand them to officials and hope the recommendations are implemented. To facilitate greater involvement of health users in addressing TB, Zimbini Madikiza who drives the implementation of RHAP’s advocacy for accountability campaign which seeks to amplify the voice of health users, raised the point that the department of health and facilities should implement outreach programmes in the communities.

The report further highlights the significance of community health workers, who deal with afflicted communities on the ground in most cases. Associate professor at the UWC school of health sciences, Prof. Renier Coetzee, also highlighted the importance of CHWs and their work. “We need to find a way to help TB patients complete their TB treatments through their CHW,” he said in his presentation.

 Dr. Gesine Meyer-Rath, a medical doctor and health economist, spoke about the importance of TB funding in South Africa. She also added that to maximise South Africa’s TB budget, an investment case was created.

Mabalane Mfundisi, the TB Task Team Chairperson, outlined civil society’s role in the TB Recovery Plan. “The role of community leaders and civil society is to educate the community about TB and create demand for services. To develop and implement TB stigma mitigation plans and support local TB screening and testing campaigns. They should also work closely with district health management teams and clinic committees in addressing community and health service delivery challenges. They should also hold the government accountable for TB services.”

Mfundisi concluded by saying that effective intervention needs to be prioritised to close any gaps in the TB care cascade.