Stakeholders in Nigeria have expressed concern over the low awareness of Tuberculosis (TB) programs in the country, despite the existence of free diagnosis and treatment programmes.
Speaking ahead of World TB Day, the director of national programmatic drug-resistant TB, Dr. Ahmad Ozi, highlighted that Nigeria is yet to meet the target of eliminating TB by 2030, as only 280 out of 400 new TB cases detected in 2022 were notified in the country.
Ozi emphasised the need to create awareness of TB programs to avoid the spread of the disease in communities. He added that the government had put policies in place to prevent TB in rural communities, as well as free diagnoses and treatment across all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
“Apart from prevention, we know that TB is a curable disease. Therefore, the government has earmarked certain policies that will influence TB control.
“For instance, the government provides a free diagnosis of tuberculosis to ensure control and treatment. Diagnosis and treatment across the 36 states, including the FCT, are free. So, as you can see, the government is doing everything possible to control TB in the country,” Ozi said.
The deputy project director for tuberculosis and malaria at BreakThrough Action Nigeria, Dr. Bolatito Aiyenigba noted that many Nigerians were not aware of free TB testing and treatment programmes. This year, stakeholders have adopted a new approach to involve everyone in the fight against TB through collaborative efforts.
Aiyenigba added that raising awareness about TB could help people realise that not every cough is a symptom of COVID-19 or other coughs but could be TB, and prompt them to seek appropriate treatment.
“Testing and treatment for tuberculosis are free, and surprisingly, many Nigerians are unaware of this. The national program has created a campaign called ‘check-am ooh’ to spread awareness because ‘who no go no go know’,” Aiyenigba said.
The executive director of the KNCV TB Foundation Nigeria, Dr. Berthrand Odume, commended the efforts of donor partners and the government in fighting TB. He highlighted that Nigeria has made substantial progress in TB control, but a lot more effort is required to meet the global target. Odume emphasised the need to consider people in rural communities, as most TB cases are coming from those areas.
“In the last three years, the national programme and [its] partners have been able to move the case detection from less than 100,000 to about 200,000 at the last reporting period. [I think] that is a very substantial effort.
“Doing this has increased treatment coverage which was 44 per cent at the last reporting.
“To meet the global target for TB control in Nigeria, people in the rural communities need to be considered. Most of the cases are coming from the rural communities,” he said.
The national coordinator of the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP), Dr. Chukwuma Anyaike, called for cooperation from the public and stakeholders to make Nigeria completely TB-free.
He explained the importance of observing World TB Day, noting that in a densely populated country like Nigeria, airborne communicable diseases such as TB can spread easily if basic hygiene is not followed. Anyaike urged stakeholders to focus on raising awareness of the severity of TB and the actions that should be taken to prevent its spread.
“Tuberculosis can spread easily, and symptoms do not show immediately. If you know you were infected, treat it right away.
“It’s not like most things where you take an antibiotic for a week or two and you are done. This can go on for months,” he said.
Nigeria is still grappling with the challenge of TB, and stakeholders are concerned about the low level of awareness among the general public about the availability of free diagnosis and treatment. The fight against the disease will require more collaboration and a greater effort to reach the rural communities where most cases are coming from.
Observing World TB Day provides an opportunity to sensitize the public on the severity of the disease and the need for early detection and treatment to achieve the global target of ending TB by 2030.