TB still prevalent in South Africa

FILE PICTURE: Dr Hulda Swai at the CSIR Lab. (Photo by Gallo Images The Times / Lauren Mulligan)

South Africa still has one of the highest rates of Tuberculosis in the world, and the disease is one of the leading causes of death in the country.

And, as world TB Day is observed on Tuesday, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has pointed to the fact that this sickness is both curable and preventable. Despite this, South Africa continues to pay higher prices for many medicines than what is available internationally, the TAC has said on its website.

“Linezolid, for instance, is unaffordable and should be available at lower costs. (Pharmaceutical company) Pfizer charges R8.460 per patient per month for use of linezolid in the public sector and more than double this for NGOs, such as MSF.

“South Africa should pursue strategies to further reduce prices. Strategies could include importing lower cost medicines from overseas or pooling procurement with other high burden countries.”

New medicines including Bedaquiline and Delaminid have shown promising results and provide a potential chance for cure in selected patients that have no other treatment options.

“Access to Bedaquiline is already available in a number of countries under compassionate use, but remains unavailable to patients in need in South Africa.” The TAC further called for the Medical Control Council (MCC) to approve the use of phase III drugs for compassionate use.

“…Once medicines in the pipeline receive pre-approval or approval from the Food Drug Administration, they must be fast-tracked by the Medicine Control Council for registration.

“The Department of Health has developed a policy framework for decentralised care of TB and begun to provide decentralised care in some sites. Costing of decentralised care has shown that it will reduce the costs of the programme by reducing the number of patients who stay in specialised hospitals as well as the length of time patients stay.”

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has previously said in the department’s annual performance plan that HIV, AIDS and TB continue to cause high rates of morbidity and mortality in the country.

“None the less, tremendous progress has been made in combating HIV and AIDS through increasing the number of people tested, increasing the treatment threshold to those with a CD4 count of 350 or less and the antiretroviral (ARV) treatment programme has been expanded to include over 1.6 million people since its inception.

“However, there is still more work to be done. A key intervention would be to ensure HIV testing is routine. HIV and AIDS still account for a significant proportion of maternal deaths. The Department will continue to expand access to Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) for pregnant women.”

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