It is estimated that over 76,000 Ghanaians are afflicted with Tuberculosis (TB), with more than 9,700 people dying of the disease each year.
Mr. Alex Segbefia, Minister of Health, said the disease, although curable, had remained a global menace that afflicted over nine million people each year, of which a third did not have access to treatment as they were “missed” by health systems.
He said a third of all notified TB cases were women, with children constituting between five and nine per cent of the recorded cases in Ghana.
Mr. Segbefia said this was unacceptable considering the fact that the disease was preventable and could be cured, and called for closer collaboration between the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and the GHS to address the gender issues associated with the TB epidemic.
He, however, identified TB as a pro-poor disease that required stakeholders to find a common ground to remove the catastrophic cost on patients.
According to him, although Ghana was branded by a recent research as an important high TB and HIV burden country, fortunately, the country had put in place a National Response Plan to address the challenge, with Parliament approving a €13 million loan facility to support the implementation of the plan.
“This will be used to procure digital X-ray machines to be distributed to 49 district hospitals and use over 12 years to actively screen for TB among Ghanaians all over the country,” he said.
He said the MOH requested the support of corporate institutions to control the disease at the community level to complement government’s efforts in expanding healthcare delivery systems through the Community-Based Health Planning and Services (CHIPS) compounds.
Mr. Segbefia then named Ehunabobrim Nana Prah Agyensaim VI, the paramount chief of Assin Owirenkyi Traditional Area, as the new TB Ambassador, to work with the GHS, the MOH and other stakeholders to end TB in Ghana.
Dr. Frank Adae Bonsu, the Programmes Manager of the National TB Control Programme (NTP), said there was a paradigm shift in the global strategy for TB control, with an underlying principle that “we must end TB without any catastrophic cost to the patient”.
He said an average of $80 million would be needed annually to effectively control TB in Ghana, but the NTP had funding and human resource gaps, which were slowing down efforts towards achieving national goals for TB control.
On the current status of TB, Dr. Bonsu said the face of the TB epidemic in Ghana had changed although they had done well by detecting and controlling the easy-to-identify cases.
He said they still had a huge difficulty in detecting TB cases, and recent studies showed that there were some individuals with the disease who did not show any symptoms.
There were also emerging trends of drug-resistant TB, which was worrisome, but there was an ongoing study to establish the magnitude of this problem, he said.
Dr. Bonsu said the current low TB detection rate was a key challenge and it was expected that a total of 44,524 cases would be recorded annually, but “we detect averagely 15,000 a year and in 2015 14,999 cases were detected, which was a further reduction of the expected figure”.
He encouraged healthcare providers to strive to improve upon their current treatment success rate of 85 per cent, saying: “We are not proud of the deaths occurring among TB patients because these are preventable causes of deaths.”
He advised the public to observe good hygiene practices and ensure enough ventilation while observing symptoms which include excessive coughing over a long period of time and feverishness, and report early for diagnoses and treatment.