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Mar 28
Commemorating World TB Day in uThukela

By: Lunga Memela (Communications Engagement Lead)

Community members engaging in a TB awareness dialogue before the main speeches were delivered by officials at the event.

The Health Systems Trust commemorated World TB Day, 24 March 2022, at a multisectoral event hosted by the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Office of the Premier at KwaMteyi Clinic in Mhlumayo, a remote community situated in the province's uThukela District. This was the official Provincial event, although many other events were held across the province and HST teams participated in all supported districts, providing services for community mobilisation, screening for TB, HIV testing and treatment initiation. The event in uThukela highlighted the marked impact of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) on communities, where this host community alone has lost 115 of its residents to TB since January 2022.

The focus of World TB Day this year is on community-led interventions, and in keeping with this, the event commenced with a community dialogue between the Provincial Department of Health (PDoH), local traditional healers, TB survivors, and individuals living with multi-drug resistant TB (MDR). The purpose is to refocus attention on TB testing, treatment and care following COVID-19 interruptions, to raise much-needed awareness about the disease, and to address misinformation. The community was encouraged to visit the local clinic and roaming mobile testing units to receive free TB screening as well as expert advice – a critical TB prevention measure that is endorsed by the DoH and regulated by national and global health guidelines. 

Facilitating the dialogue along with DoH colleagues was an energetic team of uThukela-based HST staff working under the South African Sustainable Response to HIV/AIDS and TB (SA SURE) project, which is funded by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

The community dialogue was robust and lobbied for synergy between DoH TB prevention initiatives, community members and local traditional healers. Attendees agreed on the life-saving benefits of adhering to medically prescribed TB medication and for the prescribed duration for full recovery. The dialogue also highlighted the importance of early referrals of potential TB clients to the DoH, and that forming local support groups for individuals and families of those infected with TB would be a long-term investment. 

In the image below are dialogue facilitators:  Michael Sboniso Nyawo (Area Co-ordinator and Point of Contract for TB), Joyce Buthelezi (District Community Liaison Co-ordinator uThukela), and Themba Mthembu (Community Mobiliser).

Buthelezi said that community members are not always well informed about TB; they sometimes believe myths and misnomers circulating in the community and this leads to them missing opportunities for screening, diagnosis and treatment initiation in time to save their lives. Some of the TB misinformation is based on certain cultural and traditional beliefs, and at times where TB symptoms are misconceived as witchcraft.

KZN MEC for Health, Nomagugu Simelane Simelane-Zulu

In her opening remarks, the KZN MEC for Health, Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, said: "Let us be reminded that while the world has experienced the terrible outbreak of COVID-19 over the past two years, TB is real and it is also still with us. It is still one of the leading killers of our people in the province, and the reality is that no one has to die from it, because it is curable if detected early enough."

Three take-home messages were delivered by KZN MEC for Finance, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, in her keynote address delivered on behalf of Premier Sihle Zikalala in line with theme for World TB Day for 2022: 'Invest in End TB. Save Lives.'

  1. MEC Dube-Ncube encouraged people to be screened for TB free-of-charge at local health facilities, especially when they present with any of the common symptoms.
  2. She said that stigmatisation of TB should be a thing of the past, explaining that all members of society have the right to access TB screening services, without feeling that they will be discriminated against. Instead, every individual should feel supported and encouraged by members of their family and communities to be screened and treated to fully recover from TB infection.
  3. MEC Dube-Ncube said that all constituencies should urgently work together to save lives, and expressed commitment from government departments to support this endeavour. 

Attendees were reminded that TB is an infectious disease, that TB and HIV co-infection have claimed many lives in the province and country, and that every effort should be made to dispel stigmatisation. They were also urged to promote adherence to medication in order to prevent TB from developing into its drug-resistant, multi-drug resistant (MDR) and potentially, extremely drug-resistant (XDR) forms in those already infected.

HST staff ready to tackle the day and provide free health screening services at the start of the event.


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