Zimbabwe laments negative impact of COVID-19 on fight against tuberculosis

Zimbabwe's Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga speaks at a mining investment conference in Harare, Zimbabwe, February 28, 2018.REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo
Zimbabwe’s Vice-President and Health Minister Constantino Chiwenga speaks at a conference in Harare, Zimbabwe, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

Zimbabwe Vice President and Health Minister Constantino Chiwenga says the emergence of the COVID-19 is disrupting the country’s progress in fighting tuberculosis.

He said this had been evidenced by a sharp decline in TB notifications for both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant forms of the disease.

“This negative impact of COVID-19 is mainly related to stigma and reduced accessibility to health services leading to delays in TB diagnosis and treatment initiation, “Chiwenga said.

He added that Zimbabwe’s efforts and focus on COVID-19 should not make it forget that TB remains one of the country’s major public health threats.

“The realization calls for expansion and acceleration of integrated approaches given the similarities of some of the symptoms and signs of the two conditions,” he said.

Chiwenga wants Zimbabwe to redouble efforts to raise awareness on TB, enhance the community and health system capacities to reduce morbidity and mortalities from the disease.

According to the World Health Organization Global TB Report of 2019, Zimbabwe is listed among the 30 high burden countries for TB and HIV and multi-drug-resistant TB for the period 2016-2020.

Women of reproductive age group and men are mostly affected.

Chiwenga said faced with this challenge, the Zimbabwean government came up with several interventions including the development of a TB national strategy plan 2021-25 to guide all actors on the TB response priorities for the country.

However, Zimbabwe had made significant progress in reducing the burden as observed from the decline in estimated incident rate from 242 per 100,000 in 2015 to a rate of 199 per 100,000 in 2019, Chiwenga said.

He added that the TB epidemic in Zimbabwe is largely driven by HIV.

“As the country inches towards the last mile of finding missed TB cases, there is a need for more targeting of priority groups to optimize yield,” he said.

Chiwenga also pointed out that Zimbabwe continues to suffer the scourge of drug-resistant TB, with 226 drug-resistant TB cases being recorded in 2020.

The government had thus decentralized drug-resistant TB services to the district level to improve access to diagnosis and treatment.

The country had also introduced an injection-free drug-resistant TB treatment as the preferred treatment for all patients with drug-resistant TB.