Health officials in Tharaka Nithi County have raised an alarm over a spike in tuberculosis (TB) infections last year.
Speaking at Chuka County Referral Hospital during an event to mark World Tuberculosis Day, the county health executive, Dr Gichuiyia Nthuraku, said 1,009 cases of infections were reported last year compared to 937 in 2021.
He said the disease was currently the third top cause of death in the devolved unit with 5.7 percent of the 1,009 patients having succumbed last year.
“The TB infection trend is worrying because more cases were reported last year compared to 2021 despite an increased effort to battle the pandemic,” said Dr Nthuraku.
He said rampant consumption of illicit brew, drug and substance abuse and smoking among young people was to blame for the rising infection numbers. He called on all stakeholders to join hands in reducing the numbers.
Health Services and ICT Chief Officer Karai Riungu said it is not encouraging to see infection cases increase while the world aims at ending the pandemic by 2035.
He noted that to minimise the infections, the health department was collaborating with all stakeholders including nongovernmental organisations to sensitise the residents to go for screening whenever they have symptoms.
Mr Riungu expressed the need to eradicate stigma noting that society still views TB patients as outcasts discouraging many people to go for screening.
“TB disease is treatable and that is why we are encouraging people to go for screening so that they can start treatment early if found positive,” said Mr Riungu.
According to World Health Organization, the general symptoms of TB disease include feelings of sickness or weakness, weight loss, fever, night sweats, coughing, chest pain, and the coughing up of blood.
Director of health services in the county, Dr John Mbogo said some people still associate TB with witchcraft and usually seek help from traditional herbalists and either end up dying or going to the hospital when their health deteriorates.
He lauded Community Health Volunteers (CVHs) for playing the key role of referring all people showing TB symptoms to hospitals for screening.
He said the CHVs also help in contact-tracing for the diagnosed patients and making sure that those under treatment take their drugs as recommended.
He said a total of 110 public health facilities and private and faith-based hospitals across the county screen for TB and offer treatment.
In Isiolo, the residents were asked to voluntarily go for Tuberculosis screening across the county’s 31 treatment centres.
This is to assist the health department address the challenge of case finding in the management of the disease whose prevalence rate in the region has soared in the last year.
County Medical Services Chief officer Abdirahman Mohammed Ibrahim said residents should not wait until they exhibit symptoms to visit a hospital as some people were asymptomatic.
Accompanied by his Public health counterpart Ms Bisharo Hassan and County Director of Health Dr Hussein Abubakar, the official said early screening will help in prompt treatment.
“Our people should take advantage of the TB treatment centres by going for screening and there is no harm as the disease is preventable, curable and treatment is free,” Mr Mohammed said while reading out a speech on behalf of Health Executive James Lowasa.
TB prevalence rate in Isiolo stood at 237/100,000 in 2022 up from 212/100, 000 in the previous year, with officials raising concerns that the cases might be higher due to poor reporting.
A total of 19 patients, 32 percent of them living with HIV and Aids, succumbed to the disease last year.
During the World TB Day celebrations in Isiolo town, Mr Mohammed lamented that stigma remained a major impediment to care and treatment due to its correlation with some of the drivers of the epidemic such as malnourishment, diabetes and HIV and AIDS.
He said efforts to build capacities for communities, civil societies and healthcare workers to assist patients to beat stigma were underway.
The National Strategic Plan specifies targets for communities and CSOs that include TB awareness creation, child contact management, screening through home visits, facilitating access to diagnostic services and community-led advocacy.
County TB Coordinator Abdikadir Jillo Tutu said a five-day mobile screening exercise in integrated areas across Isiolo, Garbatulla and Merti Sub-Counties was underway for active case finding.
Mr Tutu said despite the prevalence rate soaring, the county had surpassed the national treatment success of 92 percent after recording 93 percent.
Reports shared by the health department indicated that nine percent of people seeking testing were HIV positive even though the number is suspected to be higher due to inadequate kits across the public health facilities.
The disease coordinator hailed Community Health Volunteers who on average refer 13 percent of patients for TB screening with 79 percent being self-referrals.
“We, however, have challenges in reporting systems and health care workers are reluctant to go for screening with only 20 percent of them having complied,” Mr Tutu said, while asking the executive to fast-track issuance of Sh60 million allocated towards management of the disease for next five years.