By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
Stakeholders at the fore front of tuberculosis awareness in the country have frowned at poor awareness of the disease, which they said resulted to 74 percent undetected cases.
Speaking on Monday, during a virtual media round table themed; “Increasing TB awareness creation: Lessons from COVID-19”, the Head of the Advocacy, Communication and Social Mobilisation (ACSM) unit of the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Program, Mrs. Utohowo Uko, added that only 26 percent of them have been placed on treatment across the country.
She said the Global Report of 2019, indicated that Nigeria is still missing 302,467 TB cases out of over 409,000 cases expected to be identified.
For the country to effectively address the challenges, Uko, advocated for more awareness on TB among the general populace and health workers, saying one untreated TB case can infect 15 more people within one year.
“TB is one of the top ten causes of deaths worldwide, yet, the knowledge about TB is very low. As a programme, in 2019 we were only able to identify 26 percent of the estimated TB cases in Nigeria, and we were able to put them on treatment.
“What that means is that we still have well over 74 percent of the estimated cases that are still in the community. And we know that one case of untreated TB can actually affect 15 more people within one year.
“26 percent notification was made as of 2018, that is, the global report of 2019, which showed that we were only able to identify, isolate, and place on treatment – 106,533 patients. This means that we have 74 percent as at 2018 with the report of 2019, yet to be notified.
“We all know that TB patients often go to multiple places to seek help. But in most cases, they end up not getting the correct diagnosis or being referred to the appropriate quarters where they can have their cases being handled appropriately.
“People sometimes prefer to take traditional herbs rather than seeking the proper treatment early at the right facility. This most of the time results in drug resistant TB, which is more difficult to handle.”
She added, “Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have very low awareness of TB, as well as the available services that are in the country. Also, stigmatisation and discrimination has actually placed down on the success of the programme in the country. Even some health workers are reluctant to even handle samples for TB testing because of the similarities in the symptoms of TB and COVID-19.
“Some of our GeneXpert machines being used in states for COVID-19 has reduced the number of TB samples that can actually be tested in those states.”
According to the Chairman of the Board of Stop TB Partnership Nigeria, Dr. Ayodele Awe, “Nigeria has the highest tuberculosis burden in Africa and we are about 4th or 5th in the whole world after India, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
“For TB, 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 general public and health workers have about TB. We found that only 27 percent know the cause of TB. Some think it is witchcraft. If people don’t have correct information about TB, they will report late when the TB is severe.
“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.”
On his part, the Head of Risk Control of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Yahaya Disu, in his remarks said, “Health providers must take advantage of the attention on health at this period by policy makers to strengthen the system.