Uganda: Cheers for halving TB death figures

The Observer
Feb. 1, 2014, 4:30 p.m.

Uganda has been recognised by the World Health Organisation for halving tuberculosis-related deaths down from 9,900 in 1990 to 4,700 in 2012.

This achievement won Uganda the Supra National Reference Laboratory (SRL) certification, a distinction it apparently shares only with South Africa amongst African countries. Ministry of Health officials are justifiably ecstatic. The staff of Uganda's National TB Reference Laboratory (NTRL) should be particularly commended for this milestone.

Uganda's health sector has been under fire for a long time, with seemingly nothing to write home about, but here's something to suggest that the future is brighter than the present suggests.

What makes the achievement even more important is that it means Uganda has attained the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people who die from TB ahead of the 2015 deadline.

Over the last 12 years, the number of Ugandans estimated to have TB at any given time has reduced from 88,560 to 64,000 despite the rapid increase in the population during the same period. This reduction has happened in spite of the fact that HIV/Aids, which remains a serious health concern, exacerbates Uganda's TB burden.

However, much more remains to be done. MDG six sets out to combat HIV/Aids, malaria, TB and other infectious diseases by 2015. Therefore, what has been achieved is just MDG 6c, which is tracked by the incidence, prevalence and death rates caused by TB.

Despite the government's best efforts, Uganda can't be said to be doing just as well on HIV and malaria. Even on TB, where some success has been recognised, there are reports of drug-resistant strains of the disease, a phenomenon which could easily reverse the gains so far made if not promptly addressed.

Nevertheless, what this partial success demonstrates is that with a good strategy and adequate funding, seemingly impossible targets can be met.

The challenge now is not only to consolidate this achievement but to work harder and lower TB-related deaths even further. An even bigger challenge is to do the same for HIV and malaria. It's indeed possible to reduce HIV prevalence and malaria deaths by half in the next 10 years.

Source: The Observer