Southern Times Correspondent
Harare - Cross border trading, a major economic activity in the SADC region, is still one of the major drivers of tuberculosis, research has shown.
Zimbabwe, whose economy has not been in good standing for years, has had many of its citizens accessing healthcare in neighbouring countries.
As a result, efforts to eradicate the disease are harder as there are some who slide under the radar.
Tuberculosis is a lung diseases caused by bacteria known as mycobacterium tuberculosis.
It is curable and preventable.
According to the first national tuberculosis patient cost survey in Zimbabwe, 2018 a fair percentage of people who contract TB are unaccounted for by the country`s health system.
“An estimated 37,000 people develop TB annually, of which only 26,401 are diagnosed and reported (30 percent of people with TB are “missing”),” the study said.
At the workshop on TB related costs in Zimbabwe`s city of Bulawayo, health officials were in agreement that those described as missing are constituted by those who unlawfully cross borders and cannot be part of the official medical system as patients.
This corroborated with findings that among the national borders, the Zimbabwe-South Africa border town of Beitbridge has the highest rate of TB incidences.
The Zimbabwean Ministry of Health and Child Care in their TB Epidemiology and Disease Response report found Beitbridge as having the highest number of TB confirmations together with Gwanda town.
Experts believe the formulation of cross-border frameworks for medical services provision can help reduce the TB cases, official and unofficial.
Deputy director TB and HIV services, Dr Charles Sandy said the high numbers like those in Beitbridge are a result of transnational travel and population density.
Countries have to play a part in reducing the TB cases in border towns.
Zimbabwe`s deputy director for Aids and TB Unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Charles Sandy said: “Due to the high transit activity among countries, cases of communicable diseases like TB are likely to increases. Countries should come up with a protocol to ensure there is easy health care provision for those who frequently cross borders.”
Lauren Alecci Hartel, Abdo Yazbeck and Patrick Osewe (2018) in their academic paper titled Responding to Health System Failure on Tuberculosis in Southern Africa, said the approach toward combating the disease needs to be reengineered.
“TB in Southern Africa continues to be an unfortunate fact of life and death for its 65 million inhabitants. The nature of the disease, the link to poverty and vulnerability connected to a history of racism around mining and civil rights, and the complications of multisectorality and cross-country migration and coordination are among the reasons for this failure of the health sector,” the paper said.
They also proposed the calibration for SADC to use its platform to influence political will towards curbing TB.
“A step in the right direction is efforts to harmonise TB treatment protocols across the Southern Africa region and to evolve a regional response through the political structure of SADC, the Southern Africa Development Cooperation mechanism,” the paper stated.
The regional bloc up to now does not have a stand-alone protocol on combating the world`s second largest killer.
“One of the greatest challenges facing member states in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as they work towards achieving set social, political and economic development targets is the adverse effects of HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria,” reads a passage on the SADC website under the communicable diseases section.
The last updated assessment which is meant to guide the formulation of a workable framework was in 2011.
This points to an eight-year gap in publicly accessible research which was meant to guide the SADC communicable diseases project.
Strides have been made by the region on economic issues, especially on infrastructure that will result in ease of travel.
It appears there is little focus on social implications on transnational travels whose effects include TB.
According to the WHO country profile, Zimbabwe alone had around 26 000 TB cases in 2017.
South Africa within the same period had around 220 000 confirmed cases.
These numbers point to a high incidence zone and there have been concerns over the urgency being displayed by regional leaders over issues to do with communicable diseases.