The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has directed all health facilities in the country to include tuberculosis (TB) in their screening for COVID-19, as both present similar symptoms like coughing, difficulty in breathing and fever.
Symptoms of TB itself include cough, weight loss (poor weight gain in children), fever, tiredness, night sweats, chest pain and cough with blood-stained sputum.
The disease is contagious and transmitted from a patient through droplets from coughing, singing and sneezing, which are inhaled by others.
It mostly affects the lungs but can affect other organs in the body such as the pleural cavity, liver, scrotum, kidney, intestine and womb.
It is said to be preventable and curable and that diagnosis and treatment is available free of charge in all public and accredited private health facilities.
The GHS talks of strategies for handling the COVID-19 pandemic in order to focus on TB, for early detection and treatment; the needed infrastructure, including machinery; and efforts such as cutting OPD cases by 90 per cent and reducing TB-related deaths by 95 per cent by 2035.
It also talks of reduction in TB cases by 15 per cent from 2019 to 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic ‘scare’, explaining that the 14,691 cases reported in 2019 reduced to 12,443 in 2020 as people with the condition failed to report at the various health facilities.
Then the GHS throws in the bomb that the major hurdle in the fight against TB is discrimination and stigma against persons diagnosed with the infection and health workers who take care of them.
The Service is therefore asking the public to embrace persons affected by TB and ensure they receive the needed care.
This is where the Ghanaian Times wishes to share some opinion.
It is a long-time public knowledge that TB is incurable and kills, and even while we are saying there is now a cure for it, 44,000 new cases are recorded every year with about 15,000 deaths in the country.
With the long-held view about TB and new cases occurring every year, how many people would like to associate with TB patients and those who care for them?
We should understand that unlearning what we already know is very difficult, especially if there are no structures for ensuring that, neither is there any constant reminder to that effect.
Therefore, the question is, what is the GHS doing to make the public unlearn the common view they have about the disease and make them have some empathy for TB patients and their caregivers?
Yes, everyone is likely to catch one disease or another by one means or another but majority of the people would be careful not to contract an avoidable or preventive disease.
The Ghanaian Times believes the GHS and relevant stakeholders like the National Commission of Civic Education should come together and adopt the best strategies possible to deal with the stigma and discrimination against even cured TB patients and their caregivers otherwise such occasional appeals would not work to expectation.