Premier Alan Winde calls for concerted effort to beat TB epidemic
Premier Alan Winde chaired a meeting of the Provincial Council on AIDS this morning, where he emphasised the Western Cape Government’s determination to beat the Tuberculosis (TB) epidemic in the province.
The Premier also called for the name of the body to change to the Provincial Council on AIDS and TB, to reflect this important priority.
Each province has its own Provincial Council on AIDS which aims to coordinate its response, and it is chaired by the Premier. It is made up of both government and civil society representatives.
In his remarks, the Premier reflected on the lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the government moved with agility and innovation to save lives.
“COVID-19 has been a difficult time for our government. But during this period, we demonstrated that we can be highly innovative and effective in delivering major projects that would make a real difference. From delivering medicines to people’s homes, to launching an 800-bed modern field hospital in just 6 weeks, we governed with courage. We now need to replicate this COVID-19 response as we tackle the other major challenges that our province is facing.”
During the Premier’s Special Address to the Provincial Parliament last month, he set out his government’s recovery plan with a clear moon-shot to make serious inroads in the battle against TB, and to ultimately beat it.
“TB kills more people in the Western Cape than COVID-19, and it deserves the same level of focus and determination. I intend to leverage this important council to achieve this objective”
This follows data from the health department that in June the Western Cape Government registered a 48% decline in the number of people accessing TB testing services because of the lockdown and other restrictions. While this has improved since a ramp up of healthcare services following the COVID-19 peak, the Western Cape is still registering a 36% decline in the uptake of testing compared with pre-COVID-19 data.
“During my recovery speech in the Provincial Parliament, I committed to a 90-90-90 TB strategy. We want to find 90% of all TB cases and place these residents on appropriate treatment. We want to find at least 90% of the TB cases in vulnerable populations such as with residents living with HIV and we want to successfully treat at least 90% of all those diagnosed with Drug Sensitive TB.”
“To do this, we will also adopt hotspot-focused, behaviour-change led approaches, similar to the ones we have used for COVID-19, to prevent the spread of TB amongst those most at risk.”
In line with these approaches, there have been a number of new innovations put in place to respond to the TB epidemic.
“After we learnt that diabetics were the highest risk during COVID-19, we introduced a telemedicine programme called Vector. This programme included a team of doctors keeping in contact with diabetic patients who had tested positive for the coronavirus. We are now going to roll out this programme to include TB. This will ensure high risk patients stay on their treatment regime.”
“We will also leverage our community health care workers, who will screen for TB in people’s homes. This will be done with the support of proper data and monitoring systems that will allow us to track ‘hotspots’ and also fight these TB bushfires when they emerge.”
The Premier also indicated that he is particularly excited about lessons from medicine deliveries, which he saw for himself during the pandemic.
“We will continue to deliver medicines to people’s homes, and this will now ensure that stable TB patients receive their medication monthly. I was able to join a team of community health care workers delivering medicine in Langa a few months ago, and I was so impressed by the programme and the dedication of these workers.”
Testing will also prove important in the battle of TB, as was the case with COVID-19, and we will make use of our increased testing capacity in our TB response.
“The Western Cape Government received additional GeneXpert testing machines from the National Department of Health at the start of the pandemic to ramp up COVID-19 testing. As testing capacity eases, we will be also using this testing capacity in our response to TB.”
The Western Cape Government is also continuing with plans to allocate 30 beds at the Sonstraal Hospital for dedicated TB healthcare.
In conclusion, Premier Winde emphasised that this ambitious focus on beating TB will need courage and determination in the weeks and months ahead.
“Realising the dignity and wellbeing of our people, especially those who live in vulnerable communities, is a top priority for my government - and beating TB is essential to making this happen. You cannot have dignity if you are sick and are not cared for. That is why I am determined to get the job done in our fight against this epidemic, and to save as many lives as possible."