Healthcare shows signs of life

Healthcare shows signs of life

By Ernest Mabuza, 6 March 2017,

South Africa has shown improvement in a number of areas in the public healthcare system, but TB continues to burden the country.

The 2015-16 district health barometer survey, released by the Health Systems Trust last week, shows the country’s public health system has made impressive strides in reducing the infant mortality rate, a marked increase in the immunisation of children under one and an increase in cervical screening coverage.

The barometer shows fewer children under five are dying from diarrhoea and pneumonia – a major public health achievement.

Although the survey found that the national TB treatment success rate had improved steadily, from 68.8% in 2007 to 77.2% in 2014, it also found that TB remained the leading cause of death in the country in 2014, with 8.4% deaths nationally caused by the disease.

TB was the leading cause of death in six of the country’s nine provinces in 2014.

The highest proportion of deaths caused by TB were recorded in KwaZulu-Natal (11.2%) and in Mpumalanga (9.8%).

Health Systems Trust spokesman Judith Annakie-Eriksen said, according to the World Health Organisation, two areas vital to combating the TB epidemic were to increase services to diagnose and treat patients swiftly and invest in research to develop new diagnostics and medications.

She said a combination of factors was needed for successful outcomes in TB programmes.

Annakie-Eriksen said the country needed to reduce TB transmission by achieving early diagnosis and placing patients quickly on effective treatment.

South Africa needed to seek out TB cases by investigating people around those with the disease and to screen people at high risk of TB, such as people with HIV.

Annakie-Eriksen called for the country to deal with the high burden of drug-resistant TB, which is difficult to treat, with improved treatment.

“The country needs to reduce transmission and provide all HIV-positive people with antiretroviral treatment, which greatly reduces their vulnerability to TB.

“The country must deal with the structural drivers of TB, such as poverty, poor living conditions and occupational settings where the risks of TB are high.

“The trends in TB mortality are encouraging, but a lot more work still needs to be done,” Annakie-Eriksen said.

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