At least one million tuberculosis (TB) patients may die, with over 6.5 million people estimated to be affected globally in the near future as a result of the secondary impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is largely due to the fact that the treatment of COVID-19 seems to be getting major attention globally in healthcare services to the detriment of other equally important routine healthcare services like tuberculosis, immunisation, etc.
The new Executive Director at KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation, Dr. Mustapha Gidado, disclosed this on Monday in Abuja to reporters.
Gidado, who is the first non-Dutch professional to man the position of the organisation, also explained that TB innovation and interventions have to be made simple and scaled up to achieve significant results of detecting missing cases, raising the index of suspicion by healthcare workers, and effectively treating TB patients.
According to him: “We are all going through a trying moment with the Covid-19 pandemic globally and with over 20 million already infected and affected. We are already heading to a million deaths which are quite unfortunate and unprecedented.
“The impact of Covid-19 on tuberculosis is overwhelming. Modeling and experience have shown, with the intervention in preventing Covid-19 spread, unfortunately, has come with the destruction of services – with the massive impact on health services.
“It is estimated that over 6.5 million more TB patients will be affected in the near future, and unfortunately, we might end up recording over a million deaths secondary to tuberculosis. All these due to the massive impact of Covid-19 on the health system in general.
“But Covid-19 even though negatively impacting the healthcare services with a significant amount of other diseases suffering, it is our own thinking and believes that we can also leverage a lot from the existing resources on Covid-19 to mainstream support to the health system, for the overall impact on other diseases including tuberculosis.”
He added: “Right now, if we don’t manage stigma generally, then people who are potentially having Covid-19 may be scared of going to health care facilities not to be said to have TB or vice versa.
“Some individuals with respiratory symptoms that could have been tuberculosis might end up not being in the health facility to be early diagnosed with Covid-19 and put on treatment on time.
“The overall impact of Covid-19 response on tuberculosis is in many fronts. One of the common ones is the fact that there is total destruction in the health system because everyone within the health system is concentrating on the response to Covid-19.
“Therefore, it is not only TB that is suffering, other health services are actually currently suffering from the response to Covid-19 – from immunization to antenatal clinic attendance, to other regular clinics like diabetes, etc.
“Our current observation with the immediate impact on Covid-19 on TB is that we are finding less number of TB patients, and some TB patients who are already on care are interrupting their care because they are not able to access healthcare services for continuity of their care.
“However, many countries are coming up with mitigation processes to avoid this impact. The World Health Organization (WHO) has provided us with a global guideline on what to do in our respective countries to ensure that TB services are not totally disrupted because of the Covid-19. ADVERTISEMENT
“Funding TB patients is a priority. The first thing we need to do is to know who are these missing patients, where are they, what kind of services do they want to access, and how can we provide those services?”
“My experience being a field worker and now operating at the global level is to ensure facilitating the fact that policies, decisions, and tools that are being made available must be simple and adaptable to the frontline healthcare workers.
“We cannot be in every healthcare facility, therefore, we must make instruments, strategies, and guidelines simple for our frontline healthcare workers to enable us to reach all the TB patients.
“My slogan in this position is to make it simple. If you make it simple, then you can multiply it. In TB control, the only way you can make a difference is if you can go to scale and do it everywhere. Doing it in very small places will not make a difference in TB control,” he said