The mobile phone services company and Ministry of Health is a fruit of collaboration between the government, bilateral donors including United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others.
“We would like to thank our development partners for making this innovative development possible to assist our people easily test on their own their TB status,” said Deputy Minister for Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children (MoHCDGEC), Dr Faustine Ndugulile.
Dr Ndugulile said the innovation by Challenge TB partner, KNCV, will promote the disease’s self-screen application component so users know to use it and will support the use of the TB patient treatment mobile application in clinics initially from Dar es Salaam, Geita, Arusha, Kilimanjaro and Pwani regions.
“Other health organizations are joining the partnership in response to a call by the government to ensure rapid scale-up of the applications nationwide,” the Deputy Minister added while commending Airtel and the donor community for identifying mobile technology as a way to address health issues thus allowing optimal knowledge transfer on accessing TB detection and treatment.
One of Airtel subscribers who used the application, Judith Shoo of Dar es Salaam said it’s an innovation which will save lives. “There are a lot of questions. It is like having a medical doctor talking to a patient,” the 34-year-old assistant hotel manager, said soon after Dr Ndugulile had unveiled the application last September.
Before trying the TB self-screen tool, Shoo was wondering what TB symptoms she knew and could not think of any. The Airtel subscriber accessed the MoHCDGEC USSD menu and navigated with ease to try the service.
“It is a good thing,” she concluded afterwards. “People need to be told about this. I am definitely going to tell my friends and family about it. If they hear you can check for symptoms for [free] they will definitely use it when they need it,” she stressed.
Airtel Tanzania Public Relations and Corporate Communications Manager, Jackson Mmbando who also attended the launch, concurred with the Deputy Minister by emphasizing the important role of mobile operators in this partnership.
“Airtel takes great pride in ensuring that its subscribers can access and use of the TB Self-Screening application via USSD menu and supports the free registration of patients by health professionals,” Mmbando said.
He underlined that the mobile operator has been a partner of the government-owned and led mobile health services project since 2012. “Airtel is therefore proud to be part of this TB mobile health initiative. We believe strongly in these government-led partnerships, which create long-lasting mobile health services that reside on a public owned and led mobile health technical platform,” Mmbando added.
“You can find them all on the government USSD menu, which allows for easy access by the general public and for easy access for patient registration by health professionals,” he stressed.
According to World Health Organization in its 2018 report, there were 10.4 million TB cases reported worldwide in 2017, of which 6.3 million new cases of TB reported and 4.1 million remained undiagnosed. The high burden of undiagnosed TB cases brings much suffering and economic hardship, and sustains transmission to both individuals and their families.
The WHO report showed that Tanzania is ranked sixth among the highest TB burdened countries in Africa and is among the 22 high burden countries globally. The report stated that only 69,818 TB cases were notified out of the estimated annual incidence of 154,000 cases in 2017 (269/100,000 population) signifying a treatment coverage of 44 percent with over 84,000 TB cases missed. It is estimated that 74 TB patient die every day.