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Kenya records a rise in TB cases owing to Covid-19 pandemic

By Mercy Kahenda - March 15th 2022

Stakeholders in a procession along Uhuru highway during the launch of 'Mulika TB-Maliza TB' awareness campaign during the commemoration of World TB Day at Uhuru Park on March 24, 2016. [File, Standard]

The Covid-19 pandemic has negated what Kenya had attained in the fight against Tuberculosis (TB).

The Ministry of Health has noted a reduction in the number of TB patients diagnosed, and a rise in that of those seeking treatment.

Data by the Health Ministry of shows that while some measures were made to fight the respiratory disease, there have been key results that declined following the pandemic.

In 2020, Kenya recorded 72,943 TB cases, 5,663 cases (8 per cent) of which were infections, were paediatrics.

Acting Director of Health Dr Patrick Amoth has noted that TB continues to be a major public health concern, with Kenya being ranked among the high burden of TB and TB/HIV.

“The Covid-19 has threatened years of progress towards control of the TB epidemic,” said Dr Amoth, during the launch of the Public-Private Mix Action Plan, Interim Covid-19/TB Management Guide, Integrated TB Leprosy and Lung Disease Guideline, and the Revised Asthma Management Guideline.

Amoth added “In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic that has put end TB progresses at risk, it is critical to ensure equitable access to prevention and care as we envisage to achieve Universal Health Coverage”

But Amoth noted that due to similarities in the presentation of Covid-19 and TB, fighting the two diseases could have been done without much strain on the health system.

TB presents with a persistent cough, high body temperatures, fatigue, tiredness and night sweats, symptoms presented among Covid-19 patients. “Similarities between TB and Covid-19 present an opportunity to control these diseases effectively without significant additional stress on our health system,” added Amoth.

In Kenya, it is estimated that about 150,000 people are diagnosed with TB annually, with about 60 per cent of patients placed on treatment, according to the National Tuberculosis Program.

In 2019, there were about 147, 000 new cases of TB, but out of which, only 86, 385 were placed on treatment. A survey carried out by the ministry in 2016 indicated that the country misses an estimate of 40 per cent of TB cases, an issue that affects the fight against the respiratory disease.

Despite the challenge in fighting the disease, the government through the National TB Program in collaboration with the development partners and citizenry participation seeks to actualize a TB-free Kenya.

Kenya will join the globe on March 24, to commemorate World TB Day, under the theme- ‘Invest to End TB. Save Lives’.

“We need to intensify TB case-finding at the grassroots, increase Lab diagnosis and treatment of TB, particularly in children and special conditions, as well as improve the management of drug-susceptible and drug-resistant TB,” added Dr Amoth.

The health official noted that while most health interventions for TB control have largely been focused and implemented in public health facilities, the private sector has been shown to account for 48 per cent of health facilities with a significant proportion of people seeking care from these facilities.

Also, the TB patient pathway analysis of 2016 showed that 42 per cent of patients with TB symptoms access the private sector as the initial point of care.

In addition, 27 per cent of the people with TB symptoms seek care from individual private providers who have inadequate engagement with the public system.

According to Amoth, Public-Private Mix collaboration is important as it improves early TB diagnosis irrespective of where the patients first seek care, in the health system, and establish mechanisms that allow for efficient and high-quality diagnosis and treatment.

Further, the ministry noted that Chronic Lung diseases and Leprosy are of equal concern to the government, and therefore concerted efforts are of great essence to reducing the suffering of patients.

Also, he said Asthma, is a major Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) affecting both children and adults, as the country gears towards the implementation of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

However, Amoth revealed that the epidemiology of asthma in Kenya has not been comprehensively described to date, although a few epidemiological studies have been carried out, and they suggest the disease is common.

There is fear that the disease might affect up to 10 per cent of the population. “There is a need for all stakeholders to heighten their focus to reduce under-diagnosis and under-treatment in our country,” said Amoth.

He added “Reaching all care providers and health care workers to effectively prevent, diagnose and treat TB, Asthma and Covid-19 will require a people-centred approach, with comprehensive and integrated health services that address the needs of the whole person”

Under UHC, the ministry noted its deliberate efforts to increase access and demand for healthcare services through the establishment of strong primary healthcare with an emphasis on promoting health and preventing diseases.

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