Experts have called for increased awareness and sensitisation on tuberculosis to reduce its burden as the disease still remains highly contagious.
They spoke at a webinar TB Media Roundtable with the theme: “Improving TB Awareness Creation: Lessons from COVID-19’’.
According to them, more focus remains on COVID-19 and HIV while TB, which is the world’s most deadly infectious disease continues to ravage with about 74 per cent overflow estimated to still be in the community.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that tuberculosis is an infection disease caused by bacteria known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Commenting, Mrs Itohowo Uko, Head of Communication and Social Mobilisation, National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP), said: “Tuberculosis knowledge in Nigeria is low.
“With the current COVID-19 pandemic, this has actually impacted negatively on the initial health seeking behaviour of most of our people, as well as the adherence to even those that have been placed on treatments.
“Many people are still very not aware of it, and some do not even believe that tuberculosis is real.
“The issue of myths and misconceptions has actually posed serious challenges about the transmission of the disease, and it is also actually affecting the health behaviour of people who are in the community.
“Even, the health workers themselves sometimes don’t actually believe in the transmission.
“Factors fueling the disease including discrimination, lack of proper and correct information and stigma and fear of association being associated with TB have prevented so many people from seeking treatments.’’
According to her, one case of untreated TB actually affects 15 more people within one year.
“Nigeria can see what that means for the country to have seen a huge number of TB patients, still in the community, not identified, or treated.
“We are only able to identify 26 per cent of the estimated TB cases in Nigeria.
“And, we are able to put them on treatments, but what that means is that we still have an overflow of 74 per cent of the estimated cases that are still in the community.
“Statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that every year, around 245,000 Nigerians die from TB, and about 590,000 new cases occur; of these, around 140,000 are also HIV-positive.
“Over the last decade, Nigeria still is struggling with increasing incidence of tuberculosis cases, and currently, there is no very effective vaccine to prevent TB,’’ she said.
Also, Dr Yahya Disu, Head of Risk Communication, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), said that lessons from COVID-19 pandemic, including those from awareness and sensitisation should be leveraged and adapted for TB, to strengthen our health system.
“At all levels, we still need to strengthen our subnational level and build capacity.
“We want them to be able to also develop the messaging strategy capacity. We need this communication content to be tied as well as managing misinformation capacity to manage misinformation,” Disu said.
In his contributions, Dr Ayoola Olufemi, Deputy Director, Health Orientation and Communication, National Orientation Agency (NOA), said: “The problem is that the perception of tuberculosis
in Nigeria is very low.
“COVID-19 came with a perception of a new disease that we do not know anything about, which can kill; because of this perception of COVID-19, everybody tried to seek more knowledge about COVID-19.
“When we look at the strategy used for COVID-19 with the emergency risk communication which involves bringing in all the stakeholders into ease, we need to apply that for TB.
“We need to use multiple channels; we must bring everybody together, bring all the stakeholders together with all the stem owners who are both government and private.
“We need to go off to an emergency, so that people can see that it can be more as dangerous as COVID-19.
“We must change the perception of tuberculosis in Nigeria to let people see that tuberculosis is still a problem, it can kill and it is endemic in Nigeria,” Olufemi said.
In his remarks, Mr Akin Jimoh of the Development Communications Network (Devcoms Network), enjoined the media to join forces to increase awareness on TB.
Jimoh also called for more human angle stories on TB so that people can feel the reality of the disease and its debilitating impact. (NAN)