Alarming Tuberculosis Diagnosis Rates Highlight South Africa’s Healthcare Challenge, Says Health Minister

In a high-level meeting focused on the persistent issue of tuberculosis (TB), the Department of Health expressed deep concern regarding the mortality rate among TB patients.

During this meeting, Health Minister Dr. Joe Phaahla revealed that a staggering 300,000 people are diagnosed with TB annually in South Africa.

In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that TB claimed the lives of approximately 56,000 individuals in South Africa.

Dr. Phaahla emphasized, “TB remains an urgent and critical concern for South Africa, and we are deeply troubled by the unacceptably high death rate among our TB patients. HIV is a major driver of TB infections, with 48% of our TB patients also living with HIV in 2022.”

He reported that the Department of Health had successfully identified and provided treatment to 224,000 individuals.

“South Africa has been a leader in the implementation and expansion of new diagnostic tools and shorter treatment plans for drug-resistant TB. Nevertheless, there is a compelling need to enhance the linkage to care and the retention of patients in care,” he noted.

Dr. Phaahla highlighted that, in response to the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa had formulated a comprehensive TB recovery plan involving all stakeholders. The plan aims to locate individuals with TB who have not yet been identified and connect them with appropriate care.

Furthermore, he explained that the nation had transitioned from symptom-based TB testing to conducting tests regardless of symptoms, particularly within high-risk groups. This strategic shift significantly contributed to reducing the notification gap from 46% in 2017 to 26% in 2022.

He also noted the successful diagnosis and treatment of 75,694 children with TB, despite the target being 95,500. South Africa has achieved 97% of its target of providing TB preventive treatment to 1.97 million people living with HIV.

Dr. Phaahla expressed hope in the recent advancements in TB vaccine development and reaffirmed South Africa’s readiness to implement TB vaccines once they become available.

He concluded by stressing the importance of addressing the social determinants of TB, including poverty, gender inequality, and limited access to education, as essential factors for achieving sustainable health outcomes.

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