WHO Decries ‘Astronomic’ Cost Of Treating Tuberculosis

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Over 71 per cent of tuberculosis patients in Nigeria experience catastrophic costs due to the disease, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The national professional officer of Tuberculosis Universal Health Coverage/Communicable & Non-Communicable (UCN) Cluster, Dr. Enang Oyama made this announcement during the 2023 pre-World Tuberculosis Day press briefing in Abuja, Nigeria.

These costs, he said, are associated with lost income, transport and other expenses.

In 2023, the WHO aims to inspire hope and encourage leadership, investment and multi-sectoral collaboration to combat the tuberculosis epidemic through the ‘Yes We Can End TB’ initiative. WHO will also launch a call to action with partners urging member states to accelerate the roll-out of new WHO-recommended treatment regimens for drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Globally, tuberculosis is one of the top 10 causes of death and the leading cause of death from a single infectious agent. Nigeria and seven other countries account for two-thirds of the global total burden, with 10.6 million people affected in 2021, resulting in 1.6 million deaths.

Nigeria has seen a 37 per cent increase in tuberculosis notifications, from 207,785 in 2021 to 285,561 in 2022, but the country is still missing about 171,439 cases, which are a pool of reservoirs that fuel ongoing transmission in the community. One undetected infectious tuberculosis case can infect between 12-15 people per year.

Tuberculosis control budgets in Nigeria remain underfunded, with about 69 per cent of the tuberculosis budget in 2021 being unfunded. This threatens the country’s efforts to achieve the set targets, especially with the emergence of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and the high number of HIV. Nigeria committed to diagnosing and treating 1,109,000 TB cases and placing 2,183,890 clients on TB preventive therapy (TPT) from 2018 to 2022 at the United Nations High-Level Meeting (UNHLM) on tuberculosis in 2018.

The WHO has collaborated with other partners to support Nigeria in conducting an epidemiological analysis of the National Tuberculosis Programme and a mid-term review of the National TB Strategic Plan 2021-2025. This is aimed at providing guidance information to the development of the new Global Fund grant for 2024-2026, which is critical to the mobilisation of resources needed to support tuberculosis response efforts in the country. WHO will continue to support Nigeria in developing and implementing guidelines, plans, frameworks, and strategic documents to end the tuberculosis epidemic in the country.

The UN Health agency will facilitate research to provide evidence-based interventions and innovations for finding the missing Tuberculosis cases and enhancing the country’s efforts in reaching the set targets. Additionally, WHO will continue to work with the program to build the capacity of senior and middle-level managers across the states on the needed knowledge and skills for improving quality of care and data analysis towards formulating evidence-based policies for enhancing program performance at all levels. WHO in collaboration with its partners will also step-up action in supporting the FMOH to mobilise the needed domestic and international resources required to end Tuberculosis in the country.

In conclusion, the tuberculosis epidemic is still a significant public health concern in Nigeria, with catastrophic costs associated with the disease. Although progress has been made, more work needs to be done to reach the set targets and end the epidemic in Nigeria. The WHO will continue to provide guidance, support, and resources to Nigeria to strengthen partnerships and innovations towards the attainment of set targets, leveraging on the country’s primary health care strengthening initiatives to end the tuberculosis epidemic in the country.

Racheal Abujah
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