31 MARCH 2022

BHISHO – With today being the last day of the 2021/22 financial year, which Eastern Cape Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth declared the year to strengthen collaborations and partnerships, the fight against TB has received a much-needed boost.

The Department, this week received two mobile digital chest X-ray units from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) via its funded non-governmental organisation, MatCH.

The mobile digital chest X-ray services will aid in the Department‘s quest to increase TB case findings.

The two vehicles are equipped with a chest X-ray modality. Each vehicle will be manned by MatCH staff, including a driver and a radiographer, who will be supported by medical officers and a radiologist.

The teams manning the mobiles will be working closely with local health facility for linking patients into treatment.

The vehicles will service various clinics within the Nelson Mandela and Sarah Baartman districts on a daily basis.

This is in addition to mobile vans that have been placed in both OR Tambo and BCM districts in the second week of March 2022 by Aquity Innovations. Since then, there has been great strides made in a short space of time.

The national Department of Health under the Global Fund plans to place more mobile vans in Amathole district under TB HIV Care.

Aquity Innovations uses digital software and GIS mapping to determine the burden of the TB diseases, notified TB cases by outlining regions and map out hot spot areas.

These areas are then assessed for potential placement, by evaluation of the geographical setting and suitability.

The data and information gathered is then presented to the districts, the areas are then prioritised using TB burden, with the vans situated in a community not more than two weeks, before moving to the next hot spot area.

So far, 1 132 patients (701 in OR Tambo and 431 in BCM) were screened for TB using DCXR, of which more than 200 presented with TB symptoms. Those that tested positive for TB were started on treatment.

Tabling the Budget and Policy Speech on 15 March, the MEC said the Department had reached 92:91:79 towards the TB 90:90:90 targets. This means 92% were tested, 91% initiated on TB treatment with a 79% TB treatment success rate.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department had managed to exceed track and trace targets up to December 2021, when 8,063 TB defaulters were traced – tenfold the target of 857.

MEC Meth said the mobile X-ray units would ensure that the Department takes TB screening and services directly to people.

“These two mobile X-ray units will assist us to ensure that we get to as many people as possible, particularly those in rural areas and townships, who might not know they have been infected with TB.

“We want more people to get tested for TB and take treatment for the required months which may be 6-12 months or more, so that they can beat TB.

“We are grateful to our social partners because we would not have been able to deliver some services because of the serious budgetary constraints we have,” the MEC said.

“In line with our theme for the 2022/23 financial year which starts on 1 April, we are are urging all our social partners to continue working with us as we renew, reset and rebuild together after the devastation caused by COVID-19.”

The launch of the two units comes just days after World TB Day on March 24, a day used to raise awareness about the chronic illness.

Symptoms consistent with TB infection include coughing, chest pains, unintentional weight loss, fatigue, fever, night sweats, and loss of appetite, among others

However, one of the key findings of South Africa’s first National TB Prevalence Survey (2018) was that of the 234 people found to have TB, around 58% had abnormal chest x-rays without experiencing any TB symptoms.

The chest X-ray service forms part of the systematic screening of TB which includes TB symptom screening, history taking and chest X-ray.

In children, systematic screening includes history taking, clinical examination and chest X-ray. For adolescents and adults, this requires identifying clients at high risk of TB, who do not have TB symptoms or have symptoms other than a cough, and those with a negative/inconclusive Gene-Xpert result for chest X-ray screening.

Dr Naidoo said: “As MatCH, we are honoured to bring these mobile digital chest X-ray services to the communities of Sarah Baartman and Nelson Mandela Bay.”

Testing for TB is free with the service offered in clinics and hospitals.

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