On 24 March, Nigeria will join the rest of the world to mark the 2015 World Tuberculosis (TB) Day. It must be said that in recent years, impressive progress has been made in the global quest to tame TB, even though it is clear that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reversing the spread of the condition by 2015 is not achievable.
The realisation of how daunting the task of achieving the “End TB” MDG by 2015 perhaps prompted the WHO, during its World Health Assembly meeting, in May last year, to agree on a new bold 20-year (2016 to 2035) strategy to end the TB epidemic globally.
According to the WHO, the new strategy envisages a world with zero TB deaths, zero TB disease and zero TB suffering. The strategy has thus set new targets, as well as outlining actions to be taken by governments and partners to provide patient-centered care, pursue policies and systems that aid prevention and care, and drive research and innovations needed to end the TB epidemic and eliminate the condition – one of the world’s top infectious disease.
The goal of the WHO under the new strategy is very simple – all stakeholders working on TB must make concerted effort to reach, treat and cure all those who are ill from TB. This, no doubt, informed the choice of the theme for the World TB Day 2015: “Reach, Treat, Cure Everyone.” The aim is to use the theme to hasten the bold target of ending TB by 2035.
This strategy is quite an ambitious one and achieving it will be remarkable. It is, however, a big challenge as even recent WHO figures show that there is an estimated 9 million TB cases annually, while 3 million cases are either not diagnosed, or diagnosed but not treated by national TB programmes. Consequently, a lot of efforts are required to take care of the new TB cases as well as the other undiagnosed and untreated TB cases annually.
While I urge the Nigerian government and other stakeholders to key into the World TB Day 2015 theme and use it to further strengthen efforts to tame TB in the country, it must equally be emphasised that it is crucial to recognise the fact that TB is still a big challenge in Nigeria.In fact, the WHO still classifies Nigeria as a high TB burden country with an average prevalence of 570,000 and TB incidence rate of 81 per 100,000 population.
Stakeholders inTB control have also said that eradicating the condition in the country is also hampered by the twin-issues of low detection rate and inadequate funding. According to data from the Global Fund to fight AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria, (GFATM) an organisation that raises and spends about four billion US dallars annually to support TB control programmes in Nigeria and at least 139 other countries in 2014, TB control in Nigeria is 53 per cent underfunded.
While it is true that there are several competing health challenges for the meagre resources available to the health sector, it is important to ensure Nigeria honours its commitment to global efforts to eradicate some diseases that can be eradicated. If Nigeria fails to get on board as the world journeys towards TB eradication, we may find ourselves left behind just like it happened in the case of polio.
With poor funding a consistent issue, access to proper diagnosis and treatment for TB cannot but continue to be a serious challenge. The implication is that most of the health centres expected to provide care and services for TB control cannot deliver on expected targets. This is, perhaps, a major reason the MDG target of ending TB by 2015 became unachievable. I also believe that except and until the gap in funding is properly addressed, the new goal of ending TB by 2035 may also be wishful thinking.