Tuberculosis Policy and Practice in Africa: Bridging the Gap

Released in March of 2016, a USAID’s report concerning Tuberculosis Policy entitled, “The Policy and Practice Divide for Childhood Tuberculosis in Africa: A Landscape Analysis” provides an in depth look at how to tackle the huge problem that is TB. The report states “Childhood tuberculosis (TB) is a serious, yet historically neglected epidemic affecting children globally.”

In 2014, TB took the lives of 1.5 million people. Of those, 890,000 were men, 480,000 women, and 140,000 children. However, we can easily add more to those numbers because the World Health Organization approximates that 34 percent of TB cases go unidentified, undiagnosed and untreated. It is quite evident that the challenge of reducing these numbers will take clear and practical tuberculosis policy implementation.

USAID identifies a gap between current tuberculosis policy implementation at the national level by African countries and the practical realties of treatment “providers lack the capacity to diagnose and treat TB; pediatric formulations are often not available at the point of care; contact tracing and preventive therapy are not consistently implemented; and gaps in data quality preclude their use for decision-making.”

To close the gap between tuberculosis policy and practice the report makes three key points: prioritize high impact interventions through strengthened partnerships, strengthen systems for improved diagnostic capacity, and conducting operational research to improve service delivery.

What does all this mean in laymen’s terms? Countries need to think more strategically. An early diagnosis of TB is crucial for a child’s survival. Where health care is slim, this can be a major obstacle. Establishing a steady stream of health care services close to home is vital. Health care professionals must be provided adequate diagnostic tools to ensure children don’t go untreated.

Systematic steps should be taken to identify children that have been diagnosed with the disease. Tuberculosis relief is entirely possible; the disease is curable. The WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Report of 2015 states, “In all, effective diagnosis and treatment of TB saved an estimated 43 million lives between 2000 and 2014.”

Michael A. Clark

Photo: Flickr