Kenya Has Been Struggling With Tuberculosis Detection
With the rise of COVID-19, detection and treatment of tuberculosis - which kills four times the number of Kenyans than COVID-19 does - has plummeted.
The Kenyan government, with similar amounts of efforts it has put into containing COVID-19, according to The Guardian, can contain the Tuberculosis crisis which ravages the African country.
Tuberculosis, albeit not popularly addressed, kills four times the number of people in Kenya than COVID-19 had in Kenya since the start of the pandemic.
The Guardian narrates an anecdote in their news article piece, posing a real life scenario where a community health workier in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi, knows of a woman who was diagnosed with TB. The woman, who is a mother of young children, refused to get checked at a tuberculosis clinic in fear of going to quarantine. After being tested positive, before the woman could get treated, she died two weeks later.
The community worker, who goes by the name Violet Chemesunte, mourned and expressed dissatisfaction, “She didn’t need to die. TB is curable. The only thing you need is to be diagnosed early enough.”
In 2020, estimates say that 140,000 people in Kenya had tuberculosis, 21,000 of which died of the disease, which, statistically, is the equivalent of two buses crashing and killing all passengers daily.
The symptoms are very similar to those of COVID-19: cough, fever, night sweats, and weight loss. The disease is airborne, just like COVID-19, and it kills about 50% of all infected.
However, with increasing rates this year and fewer people getting tested, undetected and untreated people were on the rise. There was a 15% decrease in detection rates, which, according to the Ministry of Health, is "largely attributable to the pandemic."
Although much of the trouble could be attributable to the pandemic, which diverted attention from the disease, the government's mismanagement of the disease is also accountable.
Enos Okumu Masini, a doctor who serves as the head of the National Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Program with the Ministry of Health, asserted that "less than half of Kenya's plan to tackle TB has adequate funding." He also said that more than 66% of TB cases under the age of 15 are unreported, shedding light on the government's lack of diagnosis.
Masini, who correlated the TB cases to bus accidents, said that if the number of deaths was attributed to bus accidents, there would be an "uproar" and the government would scurry to intervene in the crisis, which it has not been doing since the "resources are not aligned to the magnitude of the disease."
Amref Health Africa, however, has campaigned for tuberculosis awareness. Information on how TB can potently affect people was distributed across public transport facilities. Another way in which the organization dealt with the spread of the disease was through creating an automated machine that asks 5 questions, mainly about symptoms, called "ATM". If the ATM obtains a "yes" to any of the symptoms, the machine requests the user to lodge in a sputum sample for testing.
The screening machine has aided 80,000 people in testing for TB between November 2019 and May 2021, according to Anne Munene, project officer for Amref Health Africa.
Although COVID-19 has been a setback for tuberculosis detection, Munene sees the issue as an opportunity for innovation and awareness in Kenya, which holds 83% of all TB cases worldwide.