Carletonville - As the world marked Tuberculosis Day on Saturday, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe urged South Africans to regularly test for TB and HIV, saying government would continue to implement programmes to fight the diseases.
Speaking at an event to commemorate the day, Motlanthe told those who had gathered at the Driefontein Gold Fields mine, east of Gauteng, that TB continued to be a major epidemic that confronted South Africans across all sectors of society.
Those who attended included mine workers, union leaders, community development agencies, health workers, mining managers and government representatives.
According to the United Nations, in 2010 approximately nine million people worldwide had tuberculosis; 1.4 million people died, with 95% of deaths occurring in developing countries. These figures indicate that TB is the second most infectious disease in the world.
Motlanthe said the South African government had reached critical milestones in its comprehensive efforts to address the dual epidemics of HIV and TB in the country.
"Over the last couple of years, we have moved our response from an emergency-type set of interventions, to a strategic, robust and evidence-based programme."
Well-known television personality Gerry Elsdon also announced on Saturday that she would be embarking on a 10-hour walk per day for 20 days across the country to raise TB awareness.
"These are people from all walks of life who have committed themselves individually and collectively to the elimination of TB in our lifetime... individuals who have heeded the call to take responsibility for their health; these are community members who have been using the services being provided here today and health workers who are providing services today," Motlanthe said.
In South Africa, TB is more prevalent in the mining industry due to the silica dust found there. Around 22 000 people are infected in the country's mines, with 60% - 70% of them also HIV positive.
Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland said the mine continued to look for new methodologies to improve its understanding of TB.
"More importantly, we want to be at a stage where we can detect it earlier at Gold Fields. We test everybody every year but I do believe that we can improve the way that we test."
Motlanthe said government needed to intensify efforts in the mining sector and to collaborate with the mining companies, workers and the unions in order to develop sustainable strategies to control the spread of TB.
"In this regard, the Minister of Health has been engaging employers, organised labour and all other role players for managing health in the mines."
Government reaffirmed its commitment to work in close collaboration with all stakeholders to change the mining industry from being a hotspot for TB and HIV.
During the national World TB Day event last year, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced three major initiatives aimed at reversing the tide against TB. They included household based intensified TB case finding, and the use of the new GeneXpert machine to improve the quality and time taken to diagnose both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant TB.
On Saturday, Motlanthe announced that since the initiative kicked off, health officials had managed to visit over 100 000 households with known TB patients.
The objective of these visits was to screen the contacts of known TB patients and to provide HIV counselling and testing.
From these households, said Motlanthe, about 160 000 people were screened and with 3 000 identified to have TB, while 3 200 were HIV positive.
"Most of these patients would not have been identified through our routine processes and this is an improvement that will assist us in early detection and treatment."
With regard to the use of GeneXpert, South Africa leads the way globally, having procured more than 50% of the global supply of GeneXpert tests.
From March 2011 to February 2012, South Africa had conducted almost 300 000 GeneXpert tests.
Of these, 17% of people tested were found to have TB. This was a significantly higher yield than the usual yield of between 4% and 9% using old technology. Additionally, 7% of those who tested positive were found to have drug-resistant TB.