Health dept launches programme for TB defaulters

A programme to trace people who default on their tuberculosis (TB) treatment was officially launched in the Northern Cape on Friday by Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

Forming part of the Health Department’s “Stop TB ... Because you Can” campaign, all provinces have established TB tracer teams of nurses and community health workers who visit homes to find defaulters and return them to their treatment regime.

The programme, which has been granted an additional R33-million by the European Union, has also deployed 72 more teams in districts with poor treatment outcomes.

Over 340 000 people in South Africa have TB, but the current challenge is to halt the development of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) and to help patients understand that the disease is curable if treatment is completed, Tshabalala-Msimang said in a speech prepared for delivery.

She said that during the first six months of 2005, the national cure rate was 54,9%. For the same period in 2006, it increased to 62,9%.

For the first six months of 2005, the completion rate for treatment was 68,3%, which increased to 73,6% in the first six months of 2006.

The latest data suggests that the national defaulter rate is 8,8% for the first two quarters of 2006—down from 9,7% for the same period in 2005. The target is 7%.

Already, the Msinga sub-district in KwaZulu-Natal—which includes Tugela Ferry, and the Church of Scotland Hospital—where the first cases of XDR-TB were reported in the country, has achieved a 0% defaulter rate, she said.

To contain the further spread of drug-resistant TB, the department decided to isolate patients infected with the XDR strain. Tshabalala-Msimang said this had not been an easy decision, but had been taken with the interests of the public in mind.

Last week, 33 isolated TB patients walked out of their hospital ahead of the Easter weekend. On their return the department arranged screenings and TB awareness programmes for the people whom they had come into contact with.

“We are making efforts to make hospital isolation for patients as comfortable as possible,” she said.

In the Brooklyn Chest Hospital, patients have a gym, occupational therapists, and social workers have developed a daily programme which includes vocational training.

Tshabalala-Msimang said she hoped these facilities would be established at other hospitals.

Tshabalala-Msimang’s speech was in commemoration of World TB day earlier this week. - Sapa

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