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Kenya grapples with drug resistant TB

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 24 – Kenya marks World Tuberculosis Day on Tuesday at a time when the disease is claiming about 20,000 lives in the country annually.

Head Division of Leprosy, Tuberculosis and Lung disease at the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Joseph Sitienei says TB in Kenya has increased ten times over the last 20 years.

“In 1990, Kenya was just reporting about 10,000 TB cases per year. In 2007 we reported close to 120,000 TB cases. In 2008, that number declined to about 111,000 cases because of the post 2007 election violence which saw people displaced and this affected the cases being notified,” he said.
Speaking to Capital News ahead of the TB day official commemoration, Dr Sitienei however emphasised that not all TB patients were HIV positive as is a common belief.

“Only 50 percent of TB patients are HIV positive,” he stressed.

Dr Sitienei advised that one should not take too long to seek diagnosis and treatment if they have a prolonged cough for more than two weeks which could be a sign of TB.

“Diagnosis is free, treatment is free. It is also readily available and it’s a curable disease,” said the official while launching an appeal for anyone exhibiting symptoms of coughing for more than two weeks accompanied by chest pains and night sweats to urgently seek professional diagnosis.

He, at the same time, said Kenya was faced with a multifaceted problem due to the rise of Multi Drug Resistant TB (MDR-TB), which is a more complicated strain that resists treatment.

He said by end of last year there were close to 500 reported cases of MDR-TB out of which only 46 were on treatment at the Kenyatta National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Eldoret, because it is expensive to administer treatment.

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“In 2007, there were 382 reported MDR-TB cases and last year another 102 new cases were reported, so you can see the number is increasing cumulatively.”

Dr Sitienei said the cure rate for MDR-TB cases was only 60 percent and it cost Sh1.3 million to treat one patient over 24 months.

He said an MDR-TB isolation facility being put up at the Kenyatta National Hospital would be ready by July this year.

“There remains a lot of challenges; the medicines are not readily available, TB treatment does not have an array of so many medicines that somebody can play around with. In fact there are about six at most and resistance to those two basic ones will mean now we will have to move to different kinds of medicine which are not readily available,” Dr Sitienei said.

At the same time he gave a worrying revelation that more and more people were contracting TB from health facilities.

“There is transmission of TB in high volume health facilities including some provincial and district hospitals. We have visited a few hospitals, we’ve seen how they handle TB patients and we have also tried to see which best practices we can borrow and take to other hospitals.”

Tuberculosis is a contagious lung disease that spreads through the air, including through coughing and sneezing.

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