Tuberculosis: the curable silent killer
Tuberculosis (TB) is a preventable and curable disease caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB often affects the lungs and could be deadly if not detected and cured early.
However, many seem oblivious of the dangers of TB and only wait until they suffer a severe cough before suspecting they could be suffering from the disease.
Sadly, healthcare professionals have warned that coughing and sneezing are not the only signs of the possibility that a person had come into contact with the bacteria causing TB, as many people have been diagnosed with advanced stage of TB but have never had a cough.
It is therefore imperative for the Ghana Health Service (GHS) to increase awareness about TB and how it could be prevented. Also, authorities must endeavor to make the public understand that treatment and screening for pulmonary TB is absolutely free at all public health facilities.
This is very necessary because in 2022 alone, a total of 13,332 TB cases were identified in the country, about 2.7 per cent higher than 2020 where 12,629 cases were recorded, according to the GHS.
Additionally, an estimated 10,000 people died of TB in 2020 with 15,000 Ghanaians said to succumb to the disease annually. These are just recorded cases so one can only imagine the high number of undiagnosed cases of TB in the country.
The figures are obviously alarming so all hands must be on deck to fight this airborne disease.
WHAT IS PULMONARY TB?
Pulmonary TB, according to the Okaikoi Sub-Metro TB Coordinator, Madam Haphsheitu Yahaya is contagious and mainly affects the lungs but could spread to other organs in the body.
She told the Ghanaian Times in an interview during the commemoration of the World TB day that pulmonary TB was very contagious and could be contracted by breathing in air droplets from a cough or sneeze of infected persons, adding that the resulting lung infection is known as primary TB.
Explaining further, she said most people recover from primary TB as the infection may stay inactive for years but in some cases the infection becomes active within weeks or months of exposure to the bacteria.
She revealed that there was a type of TB known as the extra-pulmonary TB (EPTB) which was not common or contagious but could affect any organ in the body other than the lungs.
Symptoms, she said included chest pains, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, fever, fatigue, coughing up blood or having a cough that lasts more than a month without sputum production.
Describing EPTB as life-threatening, she indicated that there was the need for awareness to be increased about TB, adding that without screening some medical conditions like TB could remain undiagnosed until it was too late for cure.
When asked whether the TB vaccine given at birth protects an individual from contracting the disease for life, she responded in the negative, saying after many years, the vaccine loses its efficacy.
She also added that currently, there were no boosters for TB vaccines like there is for Hepatitis ‘B’ and COVID.
Madam Yahaya therefore advised members of the public to protect themselves as much as they could from getting infected by contagious diseases by living healthy lifestyles.
“There is a lot a person can do for protection against diseases. Having a very strong immune system helps our bodies ward off diseases so everybody must endeavour to exercise as often as possible, consume more fruits and vegetables, drink more safe water and avoid stress,” she added.
She also stressed that TB was curable and urged sufferers of the disease to desist from living in fear as long as they took their medications seriously, adding that treatment for pulmonary TB was absolutely free at all public health facilities.
“When you are diagnosed with TB do not panic follow your doctor’s instructions because it is curable. If you do not seek treatment the disease can progress and damage the lungs, making treatment difficult,” Madam Yahaya added.
Touching on the main symptoms of TB, she said a cough of any duration, could be a sign of TB, unexplained weight loss, night sweat, loss of appetite and general body pains among others.
The TB coordinator advised the public to take screening for TB seriously by occasionally visiting any public health facility for the procedure which is “absolutely free.”
FUNDING FOR TB IN GHANA
At an event to mark the 2023 World TB Day recently, the Programme Manager of the National TB Programme of the GHS, Dr Yaw Adusi-Poku said Ghana had a funding gap of 20 million dollars per year to implement its national TB Strategic Plan (2021-2025).
The plan seeks to reduce TB incidence by finding missing cases, cut the mortality rate and decrease the proportion of TB-affected families who suffer catastrophic cost due to the disease by 2025.
According to Dr Adusi-Poku, following a pilot bi-directional testing policy on TB and COVID-19 in 2021, due to similarity in symptoms of both diseases, more TB cases were found in the population than COVID-19.
He said the procurement of more GeneXpert cartridges to improve TB case detection across the country was highly necessary.
With adequate investment in human capital and all other resources required, Ghana, he said, could end TB as it is planned under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
BY RAISSA SAMBOU