Article written

  • on 13.03.2014
  • at 10:00 AM
  • by Kevin Hind

South Africa Battles Drug-Resistant TB 0

Cape Town – Despite an increase in diagnosis times, South Africa is facing a growing drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) burden as nationally there remains a large gap between the number of patients diagnosed with multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and those who start treatment.

Between 2007 and 2012, recorded cases of MDR-TB, which is resistant to at least two of the primary drugs used to combat standard TB, almost doubled.

South Africa has improved its ability to test for drug-resistant TB by introducing GeneXpert, a rapid testing machine that can diagnose TB in sputum samples in less than two hours.

But in 2012, just 42 percent of patients diagnosed with MDR-TB began treatment, according to government figures. The success rate for those on treatment is about 40 percent.

“If we don’t do something about it now, MDR-TB is going to become XDR-TB [extensively drug-resistant TB],” Dr. Jennifer Hughes, a drug-resistant TB doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), told IPS. XDR-TB is a strain of TB resistant to at least four of the main TB drugs.

“If we don’t start focusing on how we treat XDR-TB properly as well, we’re just going to drive further and further resistance as we go.”

Treatment Gap

Most of South Africa’s provinces have increased their treatment capacity for MDR-TB patients after the government introduced a 2011 framework for decentralising MDR-TB care. This allows patients to start treatment at sites closer to their homes instead of the country’s few specialised TB hospitals, where a typical stay is six months.

But provision of treatment at primary healthcare level needs to increase, Dr. Norbert Ndjeke, director of the Department of Health’s DR-TB, TB and HIV division, told IPS.

“[Decentralisation] is not moving at the speed we want it to,” admitted Ndjeke. There is no special budget for decentralisation and provincial governments choose how to prioritise their spending, he said.

The number of sites MDR-TB patients can start treatment in the Western Cape, Gauteng, Eastern Cape, and the Free State provinces has quadrupled due to decentralisation. The number of sites in the Western Cape, for instance, went from four to 17, while Gauteng now has five treatment sites instead of one.

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By Brendon Bosworth Ips Africa 

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