Lack of facilities hampers TB control efforts

HARARE – Rising rates of multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) are threatening to derail decades of progress against the contagious disease, experts said yesterday, with the country grappling with lack of health facilities to treat the superbug.

TB kills more people each year than any other infectious disease, including HIV and Aids. Currently, there are about 450 people with MDR-TB in Zimbabwe, and the burden is estimated to be actually even higher as most cases go undiagnosed.

While some new antibiotics with the potential to treat some drug-resistant strains are becoming available for the first time, experts said that without accurate diagnostics, better case tracking and clear treatment guidelines, their effectiveness could rapidly be lost.

The Global Fund unveiled $1 million for the refurbishment of TB centres in Zimbabwe over two years ago to provide for specialised treatment for MDR-TB patients, but lack of coordination between government departments has slowed down the process.

Bureaucracy delayed the completion of the project.

An additional budget was unveiled by United Nations Development Programme, with renovations only commencing less than two months ago.

According to the Health ministry, one hospital per province dealing with MDR-TB was earmarked for renovations.

Deputy director HIV/Aids and TB programme in the Health and Child Care ministry Charles Sandy said there were a number of complex processes involved before the commencement of the projects.

“Renovation activities are considered procurement and they are subject to enhanced oversight as part of the additional safeguard measures and this therefore prolongs the bureaucratic process,” Sandy said.

“In addition, this requires engagement and consensus with other government departments and agencies such as Public Works Department and State Procurement Board, adding to the complexity of implementation.”

He said works on the TB centres had commenced with the refurbishments expected to be completed by end of year.

This comes as the grant is coming to an end at the end of this year.

“Work has commenced and should be completed by the end of the year. All the centres have been awarded to contractors who are currently carrying out their contractual mandates and are at varying levels of completion.”

Sandy said the centres were specifically for MDR- TB for patients requiring admission.

A nurse from a Mberengwa hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity citing protocol told the Daily News that it was important to have specialised treatment centres for MDR-TB for the health workers to also master its treatment.

She said the centres would also go a long way in ensuring that patients requiring admissions are treated from a health facility.

“Nurses take turns to visit the patient to administer medication from their homes, which is cumbersome for the already worn-out health worker. We anticipate that these centres, will take away this entire burden from the health workers as patients would be managed under one roof,” she added.

The Health ministry is also getting support from The Union — an international organisation working on TB and lung diseases — through its TB Care programme to effectively manage MDR-TB in Zimbabwe through a number of initiatives which include capacitating health staff into TB experts.

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