TB Detection and Care’s First Client Completes Treatment
The first client in the novel Connect TB study successfully and timeously completed treatment for tuberculosis (TB) at the end of October.
The Connect TB study is a partnership between UKZN’s Centre for Rural Health, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, and Vula Mobile under the leadership of Drs Jody Boffa and Tsholofelo Mhlaba from UKZN and Dr Sizulu Moyo from the HSRC. It is being undertaken throughout the eThekwini District and is funded by the Stop TB Partnership’s TB REACH programme and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The project is a partnership between the private and public sectors that provides a one-stop shop for TB testing in the private sector by providing access to free testing through the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) for GP practices via the Vula Medical Referral smartphone application.
Project manager Dr Buyisile Chibi said, ‘Doctors request testing via the Vula App and project drivers collect the samples from the doctor’s rooms and courier them to the NHLS laboratory at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital for testing. Testing is undertaken according to the public sector testing guidelines.
‘When a client is diagnosed with TB, they receive their results via text message and are provided with regular treatment adherence support over the telephone. Adherence support provides a safe support structure for people taking TB medication, helping clients to overcome barriers to treatment completion like stigma, inadequate access to services, and food insecurity.’
The project intervention started in May 2021 and will end in March 2022. The first client to be enrolled was diagnosed with TB in early May 2021. She started treatment in the public system two days later and has now completed it on time. Chibi said this milestone highlights the success and value of public-private health partnerships in detecting and treating people with TB.
Ten more clients will soon be following suit. Clients enrolled to date range from 17 to 65 years of age and live in eThekwini. They include school-going children, students at tertiary institutions, the employed and unemployed, and pensioners.
Clients diagnosed with TB are often linked to care and start treatment within two days of diagnosis. Most importantly, Adherence Facilitators provide counselling support to help clients understand their diagnosis, link them to additional support services that reduce structural barriers to treatment, and cheer them on through a difficult treatment journey.
‘Currently, more than 50 people have been diagnosed with TB through the GPs involved in the study and connected to TB treatment. Early experiences suggest that with the support, clarity, guidance, and reassurance provided by an Adherence Facilitator over the phone, the TB treatment journey can be a positive experience,’ said Chibi.
Recent statistics point to an increase in TB deaths in 2020, while the TB prevalence survey shows that people with symptoms of TB delay seeking care, while around 30% of those with symptoms of TB first present to the private health sector. The project is expected to play a major role in improving detection and care of TB patients.
Words: Nombuso Dlamini