Despite activists’ pleas, Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has not joined almost 800 health workers and experts in supporting the call to declare drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) a public health emergency.
Motsoaledi failed to cast a ballot either in favour or against the civil society proposition that the country’s growing DR-TB epidemic be declared an emergency at the close of the South African TB Conference Friday, 13 June in Durban.
This comes after public interest group Section27 release a statement late Thursday saying that it expected Motsoaledi to support the call it issued via a memorandum on 10 June alongside the Treatment Action Campaign and Doctors Without Borders.
The memorandum was delivered to South African TB Conference chair Dr. Bavesh Kana and demanded that DR-TB be declared a public health emergency with adequate, ring-fenced funding, better Department of Health reporting on it as well as the use of novel approaches to manage the response.
More than half of the conference’s 1200 delegates including KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, television presenter Gerry Rantseli-Elsdon and South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) head Dr. Fareed Abdullah voted to support the memorandum at the meeting.
According to research presented at the conference last week, common TB cases may be falling.
DR-TB, including multidrug-resistant (MDR-TB), are rising, according to Dr Norbert Ndjeka, who heads the Department of Health’s division on HIV, TB and drug resistant TB.
“Last year alone we had more than 10,000 (MDR-TB) cases,” Ndjeka told Health-e News. “I would not be surprised if in 2014 we diagnosed 15000 cases or even more.”
MDR-TB is resistant to both of the most commonly used anti-TB drugs and takes at least four times longer to cure than common TB.
According to Abdullah, whether or not DR-TB is officially declared an emergency or not – the emergency is clear.
“Whether one use the hard-hitting of language of activists who put slogans on placards or you use the dry language of statistics, we all have no doubt that we have a crisis of mortality,”said Abdullah who added that 75 percent of extensively drug-resistant TB patients are dead within five years – a death rate much higher than that associated with cancer.
Abdullah helped introduce HIV treatment into the Western Cape before it was approved for national use under former Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
“I want us all to be reminded of the dark decade of denialism that we had in this country with respect to antiretroviral treatment,” he said. “It behoves us all to avoid a situation like that with the current struggle we are facing with TB.”