Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

A new urine-based test‚ similar to those used to determine pregnancy‚ being used to diagnose tuberculosis (TB) could save thousands of lives in SA. Researchers from the University of Cape Town found that the TB-LAM urine test was a "simple and inexpensive" way to test for TB among hospitalised patients with HIV.

The findings were published in the BMC Medicine Journal this month to coincide with TB Awareness Month. The test‚ which detects components of the cell wall of the TB bacterium in urine‚ was proven to be more efficient than traditional rapid sputum-based tests.

Researcher Graeme Meintjes said that the findings could reduce mortality among HIV-infected patients admitted to hospital by speeding up the diagnosis of TB.

"The findings of these studies challenge the dogma that the first place to look for TB is in the sputum‚" he said.

In 2014, TB overtook HIV as the number-one killer of all infectious diseases in SA and globally. According to Stats SA‚ TB killed more than 33,000 people in SA in 2015‚ and the incident rate locally was 520 per 100,000 of the population.

Recently, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said a national strategy for HIV/AIDS‚ TB and sexually transmitted infections would be unveiled, and that the government had worked hard to bring the TB mortality rate down from 70,000 per annum "about 10 years ago"‚ but that 33,000 was still too high.

“Because the world thought we had defeated TB‚ there has been no new research for the past 50 years. It’s only now that we are waking up.”

Part of the problem was a lack of new research into drugs to treat TB and other drug-resistant forms of the disease. "Because the world thought we had defeated TB‚ there has been no new research for the past 50 years. It’s only now that we are waking up‚" said Motsoaledi.

According to a report by Bizcommunity‚ a Japanese drug-maker will supply SA free of charge to pilot one of the few new TB drugs to be developed in half a century.

The South African National TB Association (SANTA) community services manager, Peter Mabalane‚ said that a lack of funding for TB programmes and the conflation of TB and HIV‚ meant the problem of TB was not properly addressed. "TB is not getting the attention it deserves and is treated as a secondary disease to HIV‚" he said. "There is no need for people to die from TB because it is curable. We need a well funded unit that will liaise properly with non-governmental organisations and communities to fight TB."

Motsoaledi said the core infection rates for TB and HIV were very high‚ and the diseases could not be looked at in isolation. He said the strategy plan would deal with prevention‚ treatment, care and support, and will target key populations.

TMG Digital/The Time

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