The South African country of Zambia has a population of around 17 million. Over the last 30 years, it has experienced a rise in tuberculosis cases, an infectious bacterial disease in the lungs. Estimates show the mortality of the disease as approximately 30 deaths due to tuberculosis per 100,000 people. Below are seven important facts about tuberculosis in Zambia.
7 Facts About Tuberculosis in Zambia
- Co-infection: HIV patients have a high risk of contracting tuberculosis. In Zambia, 59% of tuberculosis patients have also tested positive for HIV. Though there are healthcare systems for the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis among patients with HIV, overpopulation, poverty, cultural beliefs and sanitation conditions can make a diagnosis of both HIV and tuberculosis a challenge.
- Limited Access to Treatment: There is a greater prevalence of tuberculosis mortality in rural areas of Zambia. The commute to a clinic is often greater than a two-hour walk for a person living in a rural home, which puts a strain on those with the disease and on the family or friends who need to take time off of work to travel with their loved one.
- Economic Burden: Tuberculosis is extremely costly for individuals and for Zambia as a nation. Medications and other services like x-rays can be expensive for individual families. Furthermore, the overall loss of a workforce can impact the greater economy. This can be seen in mining communities, where tuberculosis is especially prevalent. Because the mining industry plays an important role in Zambia’s economy, there have been negative economic impacts in losing a percentage of the workforce due to tuberculosis. A 2016 study on tuberculosis in Zambian mines advocates for greater regulatory legislation for mining conditions and better health systems to create a healthier population and a more stable economy.
- Improving the Cure Rate: Tuberculosis is a serious disease and can be fatal. The Ministry of Health finds that 62,000 Zambians contract tuberculosis and 16,000 people die each year from the disease. Though there are still many fatalities, there has been great progress in treating the disease. Today, around 88% of people treated are cured, exceeding the WHO recommended cure rate of 85%, and the pooled cure rate of between 55% and 73% for Africa.
- Better Management: World Tuberculosis Day, observed each year on March 24, commemorates the discovery of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis in 1882. During the 2019 World Tuberculosis Day, the Ministry of Health Announced the new guidelines for “Management of Latent Tuberculosis Infection.” This was the launch of greater efforts towards the elimination of tuberculosis and emphasizes early detection.
- Improved Surveillance: Though tuberculosis is a severe health issue, there have been limited health surveys to find an accurate prevalence of the disease. In 2013, the Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) through the Ministry of Health (MoH) and USAID conducted a survey on the tuberculosis rate in Zambian regions. The surveys showed a higher prevalence of tuberculosis than estimated. They also revealed improved techniques for tuberculosis detection. For example, the use of digital systems and the integration of HIV testing in tuberculosis surveys (HIV is common comorbidity) can help estimate the rate of incidence and help improve the efficiency of tuberculosis healthcare.
- More Accurate Diagnoses: Founded in 2006, the Center For Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ) has provided many services for combating tuberculosis in Zambia including research on diagnostic techniques. CIDRZ tested some novel techniques of tuberculosis diagnosis such as LED fluorescence microscopes and computer-assisted digital x-ray interpretation technology. CIDRZ helps mobilize these techniques and train community members in the identification of tuberculosis.
These facts show that the health crisis of tuberculosis in Zambia exposes a dire need for increased accessibility of healthcare and better methods of diagnosis and treatment. The recent efforts in management and care of tuberculosis show promise of effective tuberculosis management and an overall healthier population.
– Jennifer Long