TB is South Africa’s biggest killer

TB is South Africa’s biggest killer

Tuberculosis Centre

TB is South Africa’s biggest killer

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Tuberculosis (TB) is the number one killer of Africans and coloured people in South Africa according to Statistics South Africa. With 80% of the country’s young adults already infected with TB, health experts say there is no time to lose.

What is TB?

According to the World Health Organisation, TB is “an infectious bacterial disease caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis, which most commonly affects the lungs. It gets transmitted from person to person via droplets from the throat and lungs of people with the active respiratory disease”.

TB and HIV

HIV and TB form a lethal combination, each speeding the other’s progress. As HIV weakens the immune system, someone who is HIV-positive and infected with TB is far more vulnerable than someone infected with TB who is HIV-negative. This makes TB the leading cause of death among people who are HIV-positive. The latest figure from the South African Department of Health is that 73% of TB sufferers are HIV positive.

Latent TB

While it is estimated that about 80% of the population of South Africa is infected with TB bacteria, the vast majority have latent TB rather than active TB; the highest prevalence of latent TB, estimated at 88%, has been found among people 30 to 39 years of age living in townships and informal settlements.

Future prospects

Peter Mabulane, Community Services Manager at the South African National Tuberculosis Association, recently said that unless more resources were put into South Africa’s sprawling, impoverished townships, the country would fail to reach the Millennium Development Goal target of reducing TB deaths by 50% in 2015. (South Africa’s national cure rate currently stands at 57.7% compared to the WHO target of 85%.)

Mabulane added that “with the multi-drug resistant TB also taking a toll on the country’s population, delays in taking action would prove catastrophic for the country”.

Dr Ahmed Mohamed, who has operated a private surgery practice for years at Bekkersdal (one of the areas hit by violent protests in South Africa because of poor living conditions), said that “unless the government decentralized TB treatment centres to poor communities and improved general living conditions, the fight against TB was a lost cause”.

With the South African National Tuberculosis Association’s (SANTA) growing awareness of the importance of good nutrition in the prevention and management of TB, feeding schemes have been included in some of their community outreach programmes, but the organisation agrees that the battle against TB in South Africa is being lost.


Revised by M Collins