THE Ministry of Health has come up with aggressive strategies to address the scourge of tuberculosis including outreach programmes to screen the population and introduce direct observed treatment (DOT) for those found to be infected with the deadly disease.
National TB and Leprosy Programme Manager, Llang Maama, this week told the Lesotho Times that at 724 tuberculosis cases per 100 000 people, Lesotho has the second highest tuberculosis incidence rates in the world after South Africa.
Dr Maama said that the fact that many Basotho lived and worked in South Africa and that Lesotho was completely surrounded by South Africa put Basotho at even greater risk of contracting tuberculosis.
She said that tuberculosis incidences were also very high due to the HIV co-infection. Lesotho has the second highest HIV infections in the world after Swaziland.
It was against this background that Dr Maama said Lesotho would vigorously pursue strategies to drastically reduce infections and ensure Lesotho moves out of the 30 high burden tuberculosis countries in Africa.
She said they were working flat out to ensure they reduced the incidence of tuberculosis to 10 from 724 per 100 000 people by 2030.
“As a country we have embarked on intensified case finding where we have stepped out of our comfort zone to reach out to patients by ensuring that people are screened for tuberculosis when they go for consultation or check-up at health centres,” Dr Maama said.
“We are also using our outreach programmes to educate communities and ensure they fully understand about tuberculosis and related diseases so that they can play their part in the fight against the disease.
“We also have to work on the best prevention models and engage the media to disseminate messages about tuberculosis.
“We have to reduce the tuberculosis incidence to at most 10 per 100 000 people because we are currently at 724 per 100 000 people which is just too high.”
Dr Maama also revealed that they would employ the DOTS strategy to ensure that patients took their medication and completed the course of treatment.
The DOT strategy entails the use of a trained health worker to provide the prescribed tuberculosis drugs to a patient. The health worker has to observe the patient swallow every dose to ensure they do not default as this can contribute to the latter developing a drug-resistant strain of the disease which can be fatal.
Dr Maama said that in addition to key segments of the population like factory workers, prisoners and miners, they were also targeting children and the elderly for screening.
Despite the high incidence, Lesotho has registered some gains in its war against tuberculosis with World Health Organisation (WHO) revealing in its Global TB Report 2017 that the country has achieved a 7 percent decline in TB cases since 2010.
This was the second highest reduction after that of Zimbabwe which registered an 11 percent in the same period.
Other high tuberculosis burden countries that registered a decline are Kenya (6.9 percent), Ethiopia (6.9 percent), the United Republic of Tanzania (6.7 percent), Namibia (6 percent), Zambia (4.8 percent) and the Russian Federation (4.5 percent).