Tuberculosis kills 30 Ugandans daily - Govt

A laboratory technician conducts tests at the National Tuberculosis Centre in Wandegeya, Kampala, in October 2017. PHOTO/RACHEL MABALA

What you need to know:

  • The commonest manifestation of TB is that most of the time one coughs when they are infected.

Up to 240 Ugandans fall ill of tuberculosis (TB) every day and of these, 30 die, the Ministry of Health has said.

The disease is estimated to have killed about 10,950 Ugandans last year, a figure three times higher than the 3,594 people Covid-19 has killed since its outbreak in 2020. 

The revelation was made yesterday in Kampala at the official flag off of mass TB screening, which aims at reducing the spread as the government races to stop the disease as a public health threat by 2030.

The countrywide exercise began on Monday and ends on Friday ahead of the World TB Day commemoration on March 24 in Lira city.

Dr Stavia Turyahabwe, the commissioner for the National TB and Leprosy Control Programme at the ministry, said the high level of stigma about the disease, poor health-seeking behaviour and limited knowledge about prevention are major drivers of high infection and death rates.

“Every year, we estimate that 90,000 people fall ill with TB and this means about 240 are falling ill of the disease every day and from this 30 die. There is work that should be done,” she said.

“We need to focus on strategic points, the transport system, the schools, and all other congregate places like prisons are some of the places where transmission is going on every day if there is someone with the disease,” Dr Turyahabwe said. 

She asked the line ministries to work with them to intensify awareness, screening in these spaces and also provide prevention services.

“This activity [mass TB screening] is part of the many activities that we started this month to create awareness in the communities, conduct screening, treat and also prevention for TB and leprosy. It is a nationwide activity, but in Kampala, we want to reach you where you are  because of the nature of the people who are in the city,” Dr Turyahabwe said.

Dr Diana Atwine, the Health Permanent Secretary, said they also intend to find infected persons who are not yet on treatment.

“Community Awareness Screening Testing and Treatment (CAST TB) is being implemented nationally and we are going to continue until we bring down the burden of the disease. We are working with all the agencies [to do this]. We are targeting the hotspots,” Dr Atwine said while flagging off the campaign at Namayiba Bus Park along with the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Works and Transport, Mr Bageya Waiswa. 

Dr Turyahabwe said the commonest manifestation of TB is that most of the time one coughs when they are infected.

“It is transmitted from a person who has it to another person when the infected person is talking, coughing or laughing and they are not yet on treatment and the air that comes out of them is inhaled by people around them,” she said.

“Drinking and eating with the infected person may not transmit the disease but the process of you being together in the taxi or bus with closed windows increase the spread. Staying in compact/congested shops also increase the risk. TB spreads the same way Covid-19 came to us,” she added.

Dr Turyahabwe also advised that when one sneezes or coughs, they should keep their mask on to prevent spread.

“Some people remove the mask when coughing. Keep it on. But if you don’t have the cough, keep the mask on and cover it with a handkerchief or the hand of your coat. If you travel by bus, you get exposed to people with TB many times [and for long hours which increases the risk of contracting it],” she said.

Dr Atwine said the transport sector is one of the most affected with TB . 

“Men dominate this industry, they never get time to go for checkups, and therefore they remain with many diseases [in their body] and sometimes by the time they are coming to the hospital, it is too late to save them,”  the Health PS said.

She added: “The spread of TB is determined by many factors which include the status of our health. If I have other conditions that put down the immunity [such as HIV/Aids), I am at higher risk. Economic and social status also determines the spread –the refugees are highly affected.”

Dr Atwine said environmental and work-related factors also increase the risk of contracting the disease.

Mr Waiswa said they have been engaging the Ministry of Health to ensure they implement commitments they made in the multi-sectoral accountability framework.

“I call upon the bus owners and park managers to ensure all the teams –administrators, ticketing team, conductors, drivers, loaders, security and food vendors are tested,” he said.

The testing is being supported by the Infectious Disease Institute (IDI) of Makerere University and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).