Today, March 24, is World TB Day, commemorating when Dr Robert Koch announced, in 1882, that he had discovered the cause of tuberculosis, the TB bacillus.
Dr Leighlind Daniels of Plumstead, who works at DP Marais Hospital in Retreat, said Cape Town has one of the highest rates of TB (tuberculosis) in the world.
“The disease continues to be one of the leading causes of death but it can be cured provided you get treatment,” said Dr Daniels.
He said TB is spread by respiratory droplets. Symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, night sweats and chronic cough with blood-stained sputum.
Walleed Prins, 35, of Heideveld, ended up in hospital after collapsing with some of these symptoms.
He was a gangster and on drugs and endured HIV, Covid twice, and has TB, which he believes he got from his partner who refused to go to a clinic. When he heard about DP Marais he was transferred there and has been undergoing treatment and has gone from 52kg to 85kg, taken up exercise, learnt more about TB and Covid and stopped smoking. “DP is a good place and has helped me turn my life around,” said Mr Prins.
Dr Daniels said TB is non-discriminatory but is more likely to affect those living in close proximity in lower socio-economic brackets.
Once named Princess Alice Orthopaedic Paediatric Hospital, DP Marais has been a TB hospital for over 20 years and gets referrals from far and wide, taking those who are seriously ill with TB as opposed to them filling beds at bigger facilities such as Victoria and Groote Schuur.
Dr Daniels stressed the importance of early diagnosis and staying on the treatment, which is six months of daily tablets. “Most TB bugs are dead after two to four weeks and still dying after that so if patients stay the course it is definitely curable.”
He adds that TB is very crafty. If a patient interrupts treatment it can take nine to 18 months but is still curable. “When a patient interrupts their treatment we often have to reset their six months when we meet again, which prolongs their treatment time overall, but the course is still six months,” he said.
Dr Daniels said at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic DP Marais and Brooklyn Chest Hospital thought those with TB would be at greater risk of contracting Covid-19. However, patients admitted to DP Marais seemed to have fared similarly to the general population.
The provincial health department confirmed that health facilities had reported a rise in TB cases along with more patients interrupting their treatment.
TB HIV Care communications manager Alison Best of Muizenberg said there was a 30% drop in TB diagnosis in the first five months of the Covid-19. The rate of diagnosis is said to have now returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Ms Best said the national theme for World TB Day is “Invest in action to End TB Now. Get Screened. End Stigma. Save Lives”.
The theme reflects how important it is that everyone, from politicians reviewing provincial budgets to individuals seeking health care, take action to end TB.
Ms Best said HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), particularly if untreated, can lower the immune system of the person living with it. TB is an opportunistic bacterial infection that takes advantage of lowered immune systems to develop, whether that lowered immune system is the result of diabetes, cancer or HIV.
Ms Best said people living with HIV, if not on effective treatment, are therefore at greater risk of developing TB.
However, it is possible to be living with HIV and not have TB, and it is possible to have TB and not be HIV positive.
About one year ago, DP Marais opened its doors as a vaccination centre operating independently with support from the hospitals’ doctors.
Senior sister Norma Boer of Heideveld said they are presently vaccinating about 250 people each day.