Stigma remains a barrier in the fight against TB

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Stigma and discrimination remain barriers that limit access to tuberculosis (TB) screening, treatment and care – compromising the lives of people who are infected and affected by the disease.

This is according to Deputy President Paul Mashatile who to led his first World TB Day commemoration on Friday at the Tlhabane Sportsground in Rustenburg, North West.

“We think it is unacceptable that in the year 2023, we are still talking about stigma,” he told the crowds gathered in a marquee.

“We should therefore collectively champion interventions against social isolation associated with TB at the community level. We must also continuously maintain well-coordinated multi-sectoral interventions against stigma and discrimination in our communities.”

The Deputy President said the government and civil society will continue to work together to look at how to strengthen the systems that link people to care and scale up initiatives that encourage the use of TB prevention therapy.

He announced that in September this year, world leaders will gather at the United Nations General Assembly for the United Nations High-Level Meeting on TB.

“We cannot over-emphasise the importance of collaboration in the TB response. We can do more by leveraging our combined strengths and resources.”

The Deputy President is the sixth Chairperson of the South African National Aids Council (SANAC).

TB remains one of the leading causes of ill health and death in South Africa, exacerbated by patients who do not complete their treatment while others are either undiagnosed or are unreported even though they know their status.

This year’s theme:  ‘Yes! You and I Can End TB!’ is aimed at encouraging individual action to strengthen the national strategy against this curable disease.

It underlines, according to the Deputy President, the significance of taking personal responsibility and joining forces to eradicate TB as a public health threat by 2030.

“We must recommit ourselves to raising greater levels of awareness about the disease alongside its terrible health, social, and economic implications and strengthen other efforts to prevent the further spread of the disease in our communities.”

He said that the North West province faces specific challenges in the fight against TB due to mining activities and a high number of informal settlements, which result in overcrowding and unfavourable living conditions that expose people to health hazards.

However, he is of the view that the active roles of civil society, the private sector, development partners, research institutions, community members, TB survivors and people infected with TB, all remain paramount in the fight to end TB.

He said government is determined to build a world free from the devastation of preventable and curable diseases such as TB and that it will continue to embark on catch-up programmes and shortened treatment.

This is after the infectious disease took a backseat due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“However, regardless of the setback, we have made conscious efforts to rebuild and intensify TB interventions across the country,” he said.

NSP for HIV, TB and STIs

To that effect, through the fourth National Strategic Plan (NSP), the State will continue to guide the collective response to HIV, TB and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

“Viewed together, the plans set out in the NSP provide insight into the path we have travelled as a nation to overcome one of the most devastating human challenges of our time.”

The Deputy President also took the time to launch the fifth NSP for HIV, TB and STIs for the period 2023 to 2028 as adopted by Cabinet.

He described the plan as a blueprint and roadmap for a multi-sectoral, people-centred approach to eliminate HIV, TB and STIs as public health threats by 2030.

SANAC is leading several activities as part of the NSP rollout, which includes messaging about STI transmission, condom use, availability of family planning services and availability of ground-breaking HIV prevention tools.

“It is about our lives, how we protect, prolong, value and improve it. Let us work together to ensure that this NSP is one of the last in our times.

“Yes! You and I, together, can end TB,” he said. –