FG expresses dismay over COVID-19 impact on TB programmes

Osagie Ehanire

• As Global Fund, EU Approve $143m Grant
The Federal Government has expressed dismay over the impact of COVID-19 on tuberculosis programmes in the country.

This is even as The Global Fund, in partnership with African Union (AU), announced approval of grants worth $143m for Nigeria, to enable the country effectively respond and contain tuberculosis over the next three years.

The Minister Of Health, Dr. Emmanuel Osagie Ehanire, who spoke on Thursday during the 33rd Stop TB Partnership Board Meeting, said: “The advent of COVID-19 pandemic eroded some of the gains made in TB control efforts, with some available domestic resources in most countries channeled towards addressing this current pandemic.

“Nigeria being one of the epicentres of the pandemic in Africa, recorded a slight dip in TB notification at the height of the pandemic, which may affect overall TB notification in 2020. To address the impact of COVID-19 on TB, the FMOH rolled out various guidelines to enhance integration of TB case finding activities into COVID-19 control measures, and ensure continuity of TB and other services during the pandemic.

“The engagement of state Government to support expansion of diagnostic network for COVID-19 pandemic led to the procurement of GeneXpert machines by some state governments. These machines are being used for the diagnosis of COVID-19 and TB.”

He explained that it was in the bid to help cushion the impact of COVID-19 and help the country find missing TB patients, that The Global Fund in partnership with African Union approved grants worth $143m.

The financiers said COVID-19 pandemic has jeopardised global efforts to save millions of lives and provide access to essential TB care and prevention. They noted that health systems are overstretched, due to the unprecedented global health emergency, leading to serious restrictions in access to TB diagnosis, treatment, and prevention services.

“Globally, these disruptions could result in an additional 6.3 million people developing tuberculosis and 1.4 million additional deaths resulting from TB between 2020 and 2025,” the financiers said.

Nigeria, alongside Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, are the countries benefitting from Africa.

“In the next three years, we will be investing about $12.7m around the world, in low and middle income countries, to battle HIV, tuberculosis and malaria in the 11 countries. Nigeria will receive $143m for tuberculosis for the next three years,” said Eliud Wanerdwalo, Senior disease coordinator, the Global Fund at a roundtable meeting during the 33rd Stop TB Partnership virtual meeting that brought together Ministers of Health and dignitaries from the 11 African countries.

The theme was “TB Response in the African Region: Unprecedented Actions for Unprecedented Times.”

Wanerdwalo expressed pleasure that colleagues from AU hosted the event for the 11 African countries, which provided them opportunity to state their progress in scaling up TB programmes in their countries, as well as the commitment to continue to support the programmes, even in this challenging period of COVID-19.

He said: “More importantly, we are willing to continue commitment to fund the response in Africa. Global Fund is the largest international funder of TB worldwide. We have been supporting malaria, tuberculosis and HIV programmes since 2002.

“In this session, we are collectively investing about $500m over the next three years to fight tuberculosis, malaria and HIV. This represents about 45 per cent of our investment. So, you can see how important these regions are to the Global Fund.

“Global Fund will be reinvesting almost half a billion US dollars over the next three years to scale up programmes in these 11 countries. Additionally, we will be providing about $70m to support countries, scaling up their programmes to find people who are missing from treatment.

“At the Global Fund, we believe that everyone who needs treatment should be found, especially those in difficult situations, those who are in normal circumstances, and those who do not go to the facility. We should make all efforts to find them and put them on treatment. This will ensure the cutting of the chain of transmission of tuberculosis and the spread of the epidemic.

“We understand countries are facing unprecedented challenges in implementing this commitment at this COVID-19 period. But we would like to work with countries to ensure that they redouble their effort, and not only to recover the losses they have experienced this year.”

Suvanand Sahu, deputy executive director, Stop TB Partnership Secretariat, Geneva, said the areas of investment include improving the access in diagnosis, purchasing of more diagnostic equipment and improving access to data, among others.

“We are investing in communities to enable them undertake screening and diagnosing, using community health care workers. We know that close to over 60 per cent of Primary Health Care seeking in Nigeria is through the private sector. So, there will be a significant investment in improving the network of private health.”