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Malawi Issues XDR-TB Alert
By Adriana Stuijt
Exclusive to Rense.com
BLANTYRE, MALAWI, (Southern Africa) -- Of the 28,000 cases of tuberculosis reported in this landlocked, tea-producing African country, some 70% of the patients had also tested HIV positive in 2005 - which makes its 12-million-strong population much more susceptable to deadly, incurable extremely-drug-resistant tuberculosis, the killer-disease which is now taking on epidemic proportions in South Africa, the economic hub of the entire sub-saharan region and thus also frequented by thousands of lawian jobseekerers each month.
The Malawian health authorities have for this reason issued an urgent national health alarm about XDR-TB in their own country, especially because it takes from 6 to 16 weeks to get an XDR-TB diagnosis confirmed in this African country - by which time the tested patient would already have died and also have spread the infectious disease to many others. Malawian health authorities also plan to test all 'sexually-active adults' for the human-immune-deficiency virus (HIV) this week because both deadly pandemics are so closely interlinked on the African continent.
Health officials in Malawi are testing as many "sexually-active' people this week as they can find: President Bingu wa Mutharika's government has distributed 300,000 test kits across the country for this purpose. Malawi has a 12-million population of whom 14% are infected with the Aids-virus.Now, the government has also put tuberculosis-prevention 'firmly on the political agenda" to try and prevent XDR-TB from spreading into this susceptible population from SA, Henry Chimbali, the Communications Officer of the National TB Control Program, said this week.
"The (XDR-TB prevention) program will be looking at adherence and compliance of (TB-) treatment. This will be achieved by ensuring that all currently identified TB patients are under closely supervised treatment and that all health workers have adequate knowledge on TB treatment guidelines. There will be a need to engage more health care providers in TB treatment monitoring, strengthening treatment monitoring systems at all levels and intensifying proper diagnosis of all TB suspect cases," Chimbali said. The program is also focusing on prevention and control of the transmission of XDR-TB to health workers and the public. "Early diagnosis of all TB treatment failures, relapses and tracing of all treatment defaulters and the establishment of special treatment centers for XDR-TB will be important".
He said being diagnosed with XDR-TB infection 'can be potentially fatal' as most people "cannot afford the one drug which at times may be effective".
6 to 16 weeks to get diagnosis of XDR-TB...
"Symptoms of XDR-TB are the same as those of any kind of tuberculosis; the only difference is that the particular mycobacterium cannot be killed by any drugs we have today. XDR-TB can only be determined in laboratories, but results take 6-16 weeks to obtain. The treatment is expensive because you need experts to handle the patient who will need to be quarantined," said Chimbali.This past decade, there has been a quick increase of TB infections among Aids-infected patients in Malawi because of their weakened immune systems. "This is causing concern in the light of XDR-TB surfacing," he noted.
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