Tack­ling tu­ber­cu­lo­sis: it is SA’s big­gest killer

With thou­sands of deaths re­ported ev­ery year, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis re­mains SA’s big­gest killer – yet it can be cured


IT’S com­pletely treat­able, and the cur­rent Miss SA Ta­maryn Green is liv­ing proof that TB is cur­able. Re­cently, the beauty re­vealed how she suf­fered and con­qured the disease three years ago.

Just six to nine months of treat­ment and reg­u­lar check-ups could mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death. And yet thou­sands of South Africans die of TB ev­ery year. “Peo­ple are not scared of it, they don’t talk much about it, even at lead­er­ship level,” health min­is­ter Aaron Mot­soaledi said in March.

This is why it’s im­por­tant to take tu­ber­cu­lo­sis se­ri­ously.


Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis is a highly con­ta­gious bac­te­rial in­fec­tion that af­fects the lungs and can be spread to other parts of the body. It is an air­borne disease spread through wa­ter droplets in the air. In other words, cough­ing, sneez­ing, talk­ing, singing and even breath­ing can spread the disease. TB is the lead­ing cause of death world­wide, with 1,8 mil­lion peo­ple los­ing their lives each year, ac­cord­ing to non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion TB Proof.


One in 100 peo­ple in South Africa be­come ill with TB ev­ery year. Around 438 000 peo­ple fell ill with TB in South Africa in 2016. Of these, 182 000 were women and 256 000 were men, ac­cord­ing to the 2017 WHO Global TB Re­port The re­port also showed that roughly 124 000 peo­ple died of TB in the same year, .

About 5% of peo­ple with ac­tive TB haven’t been tested, the Jour­nal of In­fec­tious Diseases es­ti­mates. An­other 13% have had a TB test but never re­ceived their di­ag­no­sis. And many pa­tients have yet to start treat­ment, de­spite test­ing pos­i­tive for TB.

Of the 124 000 peo­ple who died of TB in South Africa in 2016, 101 000 were HIV pos­i­tive.


TB is di­vided into two cat­e­gories: la­tent TB, where the in­fec­tion is present in your body yet you present no symp­toms. You are not con­ta­gious in this state. Then there’s ac­tive TB, where the bac­te­ria mul­ti­ply in your body, you ex­hibit symp­toms and you are con­ta­gious.

The bac­te­ria that cause TB can de­velop re­sis­tance to the an­timi­cro­bial drugs used to cure the disease, which can lead to multi-dru­gre­sis­tant (MDR) TB.

In South Africa there were about 19 000 cases of MDR or ri­fampicin-re­sis­tant (RR) TB in 2016. And only 11 000 of those were re­ceiv­ing treat­ment.


If you think you may have TB con­sult your doc­tor or visit your lo­cal clinic, where you will have a skin or blood test to de­ter­mine whether you have the in­fec­tion. Early de­tec­tion is im­por­tant and you’ll be started on treat­ment im­me­di­ately if you have it.

Treat­ment for la­tent TB in­volves tak­ing med­i­ca­tion to pre­vent the bac­te­ria from wak­ing up in your body. For ac­tive TB sev­eral an­tibi­otics may be ad­min­is­tered to take over a course of six to nine months to cure the in­fec­tion.

ABOVE: Health min­ster Aaron Mot­soaledi says no one takes TB se­ri­ously, even though it’s the coun­try’s big­gest killer. LEFT: Miss SA Ta­maryn Green once bat­tled TB.

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