Health and Social Welfare minister Dr Hadji Mponda has expressed the government’s “deep and sincere” regrets over the acute shortage of essential TB drugs which hit Tanzania late last year.
The problem disrupted treatment schedules for some of the patients then admitted to Kibong’oto national Tuberculosis Hospital in Moshi, Kilimanjaro Region, who had to wait for weeks for the arrival of a new consignment.
However, speaking to this paper on the sidelines on a news conference on World Tuberculosis Day (tomorrow) in Dar es Salaam yesterday, the minister said the situation has since normalised following the arrival of the new consignment.
“The shortage was in relation to only two out of five essential drugs that are supposed to be administered daily to TB, but it did not affect the respective patients as widely thought,” he said, adding: “All did well throughout despite the hitch and most recovered after resuming treatment following the arrival of new supplies.”
He said the delay was beyond the country’s control “owing to the fact that there were only two companies worldwide that manufacture the drugs”, a situation further complicated by the high demand for the drugs from Tanzania and various other countries across the globe.
Dr Mponda was emphatic that the government was determined to ensure that enough TB drugs were available at all screening and treatment centres in the country and dispensed to the patients free of charge as per standing policy.
Kibong’oto Hospital ran out of the two drugs in mid-November last year, a development that threw patients admitted there into panic.
Reliable reports reaching this paper had it that some patients on multi-drug therapy fled the decades-old specialised hospital owing to the long-running non-availability of the relevant drugs and related services.
The Health ministry soon moved to allay public fears over the situation at the hospital, saying it was only some of the essential drugs that were out of stock. The drugs in question are supposed to be administered daily to patients for between 18 and 24 months.
According to the ministry, the treatment of MDR-TB patients was suspended on November 8 last year when the stock of two of the five essential drugs ran out.
“This was caused by delay in receiving the consignment of MDR-TB drugs from manufacturers, initially expected last month,” it said, days after The Guardian broke the story. Patients resumed medication in early December after the hospital received a new consignment of the two drugs.
Speaking at yesterday’s news conference, the minister said the theme for this year’s World TB Day is: ‘Stop TB in My Lifetime’. It focuses on the need to involve leaders, health workers, researchers and workers from both public and private sectors – “including journalists” – in the fight against the ages-old debilitating but curable disease.
He said over 9 million people in the world are diagnosed with TB each year, with the disease claiming the lives of over 2 million annually.
“The number of TB cases in Tanzania has been increasing on a daily basis. We had 11,000 in 1980, but the number had risen to 63,453 by 2010,” he noted.
The minister explained research conducted by the Health ministry in collaboration with World Health Organisation in 2003/2004 showed that HIV/AIDS contributed to the incidence and prevalence of TB in the country by 60 per cent.
Over 30 per cent of deaths among AIDS patients were due to TB infection, he added.
The minister said if the government had not taken appropriate steps to combat TB, the number of patients suffering from and succumbing to the disease would be much bigger.
“A total of 88 per cent of the people diagnosed with TB in 2010 were put under treatment, which beats the World Health Organisation-endorsed 85 per cent average,” he elaborated.
He said the incidence of deaths resulting from TB in Tanzania fell from 8 per cent in 2006 to 4.9 per cent in 2010, “which without doubt points to resounding success of the government’s efforts to fight the disease”.