Kenyans battling Tuberculosis (TB) are shying away from seeking treatment at health facilities in what is suspected to be for fear of contracting Covid-19.
According to Tuberculosis Accelerated Response and Care II (TB ARC II) activity Centre for Health Solutions Kenya, there has been low uptake of TB services in health facilities since the emergence of COVID-19.
Speaking to Ghetto Radio, TB ARC II Chief of Party Dr. Loraine Mugambi Nyaboga said the TB symptoms are a lot like the Covid-19 symptoms hence many of those suspected cases fear they may be diagnosed with the deadly pandemic.
She further added that even those currently on TB treatment fear visiting facilities to collect their drugs believing that they may be tested for Covid-19 which is not true as both diseases are handed differently.
“Some of the TB symptoms are similar to those Covid-19. Some of the patients with TB symptoms don’t want to get tested hence many patients end up spreading the disease in the community. Others who have been diagnosed don’t come back to health facilities for treatment follow up. This means that their TB will progress because they are not receiving treatment. This may also lead to drug resistance because the bacteria that causes TB has become resistant to the drugs during the period they stopped taking the drugs.” She said.
Dr. Mugambi now says that the country needs to also focus on TB even as focus is hooked on Covid-19.
“5% of those diagnosed with TB end up dying. This translates to one bus-Load of people. Even as health workers test for covid-19 they should also focus on other respiratory illnesses such as TB to avoid losing patients.” She added.
Fredrick Muoki a 29 year old who was diagnosed with TB in February this year says that TB services are still ongoing in health .
He says there is stigma from close family members especially during this pandemic.
“What I can say is that TB is treatable and I can attest to this. The services are ongoing in health facilities. The worst part is that there is stigma right now because TB symptoms are almost similar to those of Covid so you find that no one wants to associate with you. ” He said
As a way to Combat the TB, the National TB Program together with other stake holders have come together to sensitize the community on TB awareness.
So far there are four strategies to educate communities on the importance of early diagnosis of TB and to assure them that their well being is prioritized.
“We have come up with four main strategies to handle the matter. Number one is educating people on the need for testing and telling them that treatment is free. The second we have put in place a toll free number to call for more information on TB. This number is 0800722206. We also have a self-screening courtesy of a USSD code platform from Safaricom one simply has to dial *371# this number asks some questions and if you show symptoms it directs you to which nearest hospital you can go to.” Dr Nyambati of Ngara health Center told Ghetto Radio
The initiative has also put in place screening booths like an automated teller machine where one can simply self screen in the booth then depending on the outcome one is directed on the way forward.