By Lanre Oloyede
Experts in the fight against the scourge of tuberculosis infection in Nigeria have decried the low level of awareness among public health workers on the cause of the disease.
The experts, under the platform of Stop TB Partnership Nigeria, a multi-stakeholder partnership dedicated to the fight against Tuberculosis in Nigeria, also linked the slow pace of success in the fight against the infection to ignorance of the people who are “carriers” of the disease.
The Partnership lament that the poor knowledge of the disease among health care workers and community leaders who ought to take the lead in the fight against TB has resulted in missing of 302,467 TB cases out of over 409,000 cases expected to be identified.
Acting Board Chairman, Stop TB Partnership Nigeria, Dr. Ayodele Awe, in his remarks at a virtual TB media roundtable, stressed the importance of media in the enlightenment, sensitization and education of the people on the need to report any suspected case of TB for treatment.
He said: “Public information and general health worker information is still very low. We did a survey some years back to know the level of information the public and health workers have about TB. Surprisingly, we found that only 27 percent know the cause of TB. Some said it’s witchcraft. If people don’t have correct information about TB, they will report late when the TB is severe.
“Similarly, If the health worker does not know that every possible cough may be TB, and they do not ask the patient the right questions, TB cases will be missed by the facility, and the patient will end up developing multidrug resistance.”
Nigeria has the highest tuberculosis burden in Africa and, are about 4th or 5th in the world after India, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
According to the panelists, Nigeria and other tuberculosis endemic countries will have to double their investments in prevention and treatment if they are to overcome the health scourge.
This has become even more imperative as global focus on addressing the Covid-19 pandemic has affected funding for other critical diseases like tuberculosis.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, global attention has been on its prevention and treatment to the detriment of other infectious diseases like tuberculosis.
The panelists also noted that positive perception towards tuberculosis and its management is crucial as just 74% of tuberculosis patients are yet to be identified, with only 26% having access to treatment across the country.
They therefore suggested that the Federal Government should make use of established structures such as the National orientation Agency (NOA) to effectively sensitize the public about the disease.
Also speaking, Head of the Advocacy, Communication and Social Mobilisation (ACSM) unit of the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Program, Mrs. Utohowo Uko, in her submissions advocated for more awareness on TB among Nigerians and health workers, expressing fear that one untreated TB case can infect 15 more people within one year.
She registered the frustrations of the people engaged in the fight against TB with the unwillingness of TB carriers to report case to health facilities for proper examination and treatment.
She said that such situation has frustrated the fight against TB in Nigeria, and also resulted in rise in number of unidentified TB carriers due to the fact that more people contract the disease during the COVID-19 lockdown, as data indicated.
The Head of Risk Control of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Yahaya Disu, in his remarks advised health care workers to leverage the attention on health sector by policy makers to strengthen the system.
He said: “COVID-19 has attracted the attention of policy makers to health sector. However, COVID-19 will not be here forever, but we have been having TB over 100 years old, and it has been a problem. We need to seize this opportunity to effect some changes. There are lessons we can learn from COVID-19 and see how we can translate that to TB.”