Expert advocates establishment of Presidential Task Force on TB

By Hassan Zaggi

The Medical Officer in charge of Tuberculosis (TB) at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Ayodele Awe, has advocated for the establishment of Presidential Task Force on TB.
This, according to him, is to give the fight against TB the needed attention so as to halt its spread in the country.

Speaking during a Webinar media interaction on Monday, Dr. Awe disclosed that TB kills more people than Covid, hence, needed to be given the required attention.

He also called on both states and local governments to emulate Kaduna state government by procuring mobile Gene Xpert machines which has the capacity to test Covid-19 and TB at the same time.

According to him, “each hour, there are 18 TB related deaths. 18 persons are dying of TB each hour and each day 430 persons are dying far more than Covid.

“Globally, it has shown that TB is a killer than Covid.

“We need the same type of Presidential Task Force on TB.

“The TB programme for the past two years has tried to stimulate the government to say, have a Presidential Task Force, lets bring people together. TB funding is very low it is only supported through Global Fund and partners.

“To catch up with what is happening on Covid, the Covid management in each state should liaise with the TB programme.

“We have structures on the ground that can even increase detection of Covid cases. This is because we have 12,000 dots centres in the country.

“We also need to increase the personal protective equipment so that our officers can have confidence to support the Covid.”

While lamenting that Covid has affected the war against TB negatively, Dr. Awe revealed that Nigeria is still missing 300,000 new TB cases every year and only able to detect 25 per cent of the expected TB cases in the country, insisting that, “we need what Kaduna has done. Let every local government have their own diagnostic tools.”

Speaking, the Country Director of HP+, Frances Ilika, regretted that there is a huge funding gap for TB in Nigeria.

She, however, warned that there is going to be a post COVID health crisis if actions are not taken to fund and control diseases that are of public health importance including HIV, Malaria and TB.

“If measures are not taken to address some of the key issues that we have with HIV, TB and Malaria, after Covid, there could be even a bigger crisis that will arise from these disease that are of public health significance,” she stressed.

On what to do to avert what she described as the secondary crisis, the expert said: “One of the things to do is the country ownership and leadership for TB approach.

“We are going to need the highest level of political commitment as well as commitment across all levels of all the people who work in and outside the health sector.

“While we focus on Covid, we need to also remember that we have other deadly diseases that are threatening us and can be further enabled by Covid.

“Domestic resources mobilization is key. We need to move away from dependent on donor funding for TB to actually improve our budget allocation for TB.

“A lot of effort is needed from the national level including from the parliamentarians and the executives to make sure that we provide adequate funding for TB and make sure that these funds are released both at the national and state levels and ensure that it goes down to the facility level where it can actually make impact at the community level.

“We need to also stimulate private sector investment.

We need policies on how we can actually integrate Covid and TB response so that as they are looking for Covid-19, we need to be looking for the TB cases.”

While noting that Nigeria has a huge gap of about 60 per cent of the required funding for TB and that the bulk of the funding was still donor dependent, she disclosed that it has been projected that it will take about 28.5 billion dollars to correct the effect of Covid on HIV, TB and Malaria.

On her part, the National Coordinator, National Tuberculosis, Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP), Dr Adebola Lawanson, lamented that the COVID-19 war has negatively affected the fight against TB leading to the increase in cases in the country.

“One of the things we have seen is that the number of cases have increased, “ she stressed.

On what new things her programme has developed to end the scourge during the Covid period, she said: “Community approach in handling Covid, though it is not totally new, but it will help in TB.

“There was a lot of community approach for contact tracing for Covid, that also provided opportunity for us to track all forms of TB including drug resistant TB.

“Covid-19 also gave us the opportunity to renovate our laboratories.”

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