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Experts seek integration of TB into COVID-19 response

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The National Coordinator, National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP), Dr. Adebola Lawanson, has urged the Federal Government to put in place policies that will integrate tuberculosis into the COVID-19 response.

Lawanson, who spoke during an online media roundtable themed “Impact of COVID-19 on TB: challenges and opportunities for service delivery, policy, and financing” in Abuja, revealed that there has not been sufficient progress in TB case finding due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

He noted that TB, like other diseases, has been seriously hit during this coronavirus pandemic due to resource relocation and realignment for COVID-19, adding that the lack of access to health facilities during the lockdown period contributed to the increase in cases of the disease in the country.

“We want a situation whereby, as we look for COVID-19 symptoms, we are also treating TB cases. During the lockdown, it was possible for a TB case to become drug-resistant, a situation that will ultimately increase the cost of treatment.

“At the individual level, the health messages that were introduced during the peak of COVID-19 for people to stay at home when they have symptoms were contrary to the messaging on TB. There was a lot of misconceptions, and misinformation, people do not want to be stigmatised of having COVID -19. It caused an increase in mortality for TB. Some of the messages reinforced stigma because a lot of people decided to hide their cough so that people don’t mistake them for TB,” Lawanson said.

According to her, there has been an increase in cases of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis as COVID-19 put pressure on health facilities, weakens monitoring and drug supervision for TB patients, while health care workers were not willing to carry out TB case finding.

The Acting Chairman of the Board of Stop TB, Dr. Ayodele Awe, said about 300,000 new cases were missing every year as the country was able to detect only 25 percent of the expected cases.

Awe, who stressed the need for more reinforcement at the state and national levels to reduce TB cases, urged state governments to liaise with the programme managers to tackle COVID-19 effectively.

Country Director, USAID Health Policy Plus Project, Francesca Ilika, said that state ownership of TB was critical to controlling the disease in Nigeria. She called for the inclusion of TB in state health insurance schemes for proper management of the deadly disease.

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