For a disease responsible for 430 deaths daily and at least 157,000 deaths annually in Nigeria, stakeholders in the health sector have decried the level of neglect on treatment and case finding for Tuberculosis (TB), since the fight against the COVID-19 started.
They stated that although the fatality figure for COVID-19 is a little above the 1,000 marks, tuberculosis kills more people yearly, with 18 people dying every hour.
It, therefore, urged the Federal Government to collaborate with the national tuberculosis programme to increase case detection of tuberculosis, while it simultaneously tests for COVID-19.
Speaking during the TB media roundtable organised by the Stop TB Partnership, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health, in Abuja on Monday, the National Coordinator of the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP), Dr. Adebola Lawanson, explained that during the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, there has not been sufficient progress made in TB cases finding.
She added that tuberculosis, like other diseases, has been worse hit during this period due to resource relocation and realignment for COVID-19.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative for TB, Dr. Ayodele Awe, “COVID-19 has really affected the tuberculosis program this year. It has affected it negatively because we have not made as much progress in finding the cases.
“Although COVID-19 and tuberculosis have similarities, we need to see how we can benefit from this new respiratory disease that has just entered into Nigeria. This we are not seeing so much. Kaduna is a very good example of a state that has increased case finding.
“Nigeria is still missing 300,000 cases every year. We are only able to detect 25 percent of the estimated tuberculosis cases. Every LGA needs to have its own diagnostic tools. Presently, we have only 40 percent coverage of the LGAs with GeneXpert machine.
“Do you know that more people are dying of tuberculosis daily than from COVID-19. For COVID-19, it is acute but for tuberculosis, it is a chronic disease. Each hour, they are 18 deaths of tuberculosis. The total numbers of persons that have died from COVID-19 are about 1,000. But for tuberculosis, each day 430 percent die from tuberculosis.
“Each year 157,000 persons die of tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is still the top infectious killer. We need the same kind of Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 for tuberculosis.
“The domestic resources for supporting tuberculosis are still very low. TB support is majorly funded through global funds and other partners. We need the government to be as committed as what they are doing in Kaduna state.
“The EOCs in each state should collaborate with the tuberculosis program because we have structures on ground that can be used to increase detection of more COVID-19 cases because we have 12,000 dot centres in the different communities.”
The Country Director of KNCV Foundation Nigeria, Dr. Bethrand Odume, in his remarks, urged the government to invest more resources into tackling tuberculosis. “We must not be all dependent on external donors because we have the capacity. The only way to go is an integrated approach to health service delivery,” he said.
Also speaking, the focal person for TB at the Institute for Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN), Dr. Aderonke Agbaje, said, “COVID-19 is here to stay. Tuberculosis has really taken a hit in this regard with human resources, funds, and materials that have been relocated and realigned to attend to COVID-19 issues. We have had the GeneXpert machines, HIV labs etc., being redeployed to support the COVID-19 response.
“There is a need to assess the human resources for health, both at the federal and state level so that diseases like tuberculosis and other health issues are not being placed on the back burner in our response to COVID-19.”