KARONGI/KIGALI — Many people in the country shun TB tests because they link the disease to HIV/Aids, the Minister of Health, Dr. Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo has said.
The minister made the remarks on Monday during the commemoration of the World Tuberculosis [TB] Day at Gatwaro Stadium, Karongi district in the Western Province.
Ntawukuriryayo noted that TB infection has been increasing rather than decreasing despite the numerous efforts to contain the disease. Between 2004 and 2007, the infection of TB in Rwanda increased by 20%. While recent statistics from the ministry indicate an increase from about 6,000 to over 8,000 TB cases.
However, despite the apparent increasing trend, Rwanda has recorded remarkable success in scaling down TB infection among African countries, according to World Health Organisation report.
"Most people are scared of testing for TB because they believe it is an HIV/AIDS symptom, but health workers should be close to them, to give them the necessary counselling," said the minister.
According to Dr. Michael Gasana, the Director of TB department in the Ministry of Health, 37 percent of the people suffering from HIV/AIDS get infected by TB as well.
"It is true TB is sometimes related to HIV infection and infected people are more vulnerable to get TB, but the solution lies in testing if at all Rwandans are to live longer healthy lives, the minister explained.
"eight million people around the world are infected with TB each year, while 2 million people succumb to it," added Ntawukuriryayo.
Various speakers at the function observed that shunning TB tests was partly to blame for the continuous spread of the disease in the country. It also emerged that people especially in villages have often associated TB with witchcraft and thus fail to seek the recommended treatment. This has led to further spread of the disease in families.
It was also observed that most TB patients skip the recommended dosages leading to the disease resistance. The minimum period within which to complete TB medication is six months for normal infection, but for disease resistant infection the patient can take the drugs for about two years.
"When they seem to be improving, they decide to abandon the medication and the disease worsens. When this happens, the disease takes a different form and it takes longer to be totally healed," said Dr. Gasana.
Bernard Kayumba, the Mayor of Karongi, said reports have often reached the district of TB patients abandoning the treatment. The habit of sharing drinking straws was also blamed for the spread of the disease.
Kayumba appealed to the government to help the district renovate hospitals, pay workers and sponsor training to improve capacity of staff.
"Most of the hospitals and health centres in Karongi are very old and residents are also still green about family planning," Kayumba said.
The minister urged doctors and health workers to fully participate in tracking TB patients and giving all the needed information about the disease to reverse the transmission trend.
The minister later held a meeting with all health workers in the district in which he challenged them to work responsibly to combat TB and other diseases.
During the same occasion Dr. Ntawukuriryayo said the ministry has organized training programmes on how to combat TB which would begin after the genocide commemoration week in Karongi. Similar training has been going on in some districts of the Western Province.
Officials of World Health Organisation [WHO], the National Aids Control Commission [CNLS], and provincial officials were among those who graced the function.
Meanwhile, Dr. Gasana said the ministry has set up a one stop service, where someone seeking TB test can be tested for HIV/AIDS as well so that they can appropriately handle the TB infection.
Gasana noted that the TB campaign calls for collective responsibility.
He said a team of trained personnel has been set up at sector and district level to carry out the awareness campaign to scale down the disease.
The move is largely aimed at increasing access to TB drugs where health personnel go to homes to administer medication to TB patients.