DURBAN (Monday, 4 June) Tuberculosis (TB)/HIV co-infection will be the focus for AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), other NGOs, doctors and researchers who will be attending the 5thSA TB Conference at the Durban ICC from 12 to 15 June, 2018.

Under the conference theme, ‘Step Up, Let’s Embrace All to End TB!’, delegates will share their respective research, modules and plans to combat the silent killer that is TB/HIV co-infection, which according to AVERT contributed to an estimated 400,000 deaths in adults and 40,000 in children in 2015 alone. Currently, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), India, Indonesia, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia account for around 70% of all TB deaths among people living with HIV.

AHF, the largest non-profit HIV/AIDS healthcare provider in the world already offers TB testing as part of the standard health screening to all outreach testing participants. AHF also offers TB testing at all AHF-supported sites and facilities around the world.

“AHF’s focus is on TB/HIV co-infection and the importance of TB testing, diagnosis and adherence to treatment,” said AHF South Africa Country Programme Director Hilary Thulare. “We hope to learn from best practice models being showcased by other organisations and to participate in sessions aimed at deepening our clinical understanding. We are also advocating for less toxic drug-resistant TB medication.”

Apart from sharing case studies, programmes, modules and research on TB and HIV matters, AHF will also shed light on its recent investment in cutting edge technology in the form of a GeneXpert machine, which is already in use at AHF’s Umlazi W-based Ithembalabantu clinic. The machine is revolutionary as it reduces waiting time for TB results from 6 weeks to under 2 hours.

“A reduction in waiting time equates to less travel expenses for patients who often lack the financial resources to make regular visits to the clinic for their results, follow-ups or restocking of their medication,” said Larissa Klazinga, Regional Policy and Advocacy Manager for AHF South Africa. “Through the GeneXpert we can test, diagnose and give medication on the same day, cutting waiting time, expenses and time spent away from work.”

According to a report released by Statistics South Africa, TB in the country accounted for 7,2% of all deaths in 2016, claiming the lives of more men than women (8,3% of males succumb to TB).

“TB has long been seen as an occupational hazard in industries like mining, which remain predominantly male-dominated. Men are also less likely to present themselves at clinics for treatment, and when they do, they are often already very ill and less able to tolerate the TB treatment, resulting in higher death rates among men,” added Klazinga.

Commenting on whether South Africa is realistically close to ending TB, Research Project Manager at AHF’s Ithembalabantu Clinic, Sabina Govere said, “Despite substantial investment in healthcare facility-based diagnosis and treatment of TB, only a fraction of people with HIV and TB in South Africa are screened for TB and go on to complete TB treatment; therefore, TB control at the community level remains poor. Active, mobile, community-based TB case finding may add substantially to facility-based efforts and may improve both individual outcomes and TB control at the population level.”

Govere continues, “However, community-based active case finding programs have been hampered by a reliance on smear microscopy for TB diagnosis. Additionally, only a few TB case finding programs have focused on HIV-infected individuals, who are at the highest risk for both incident TB and poor treatment outcomes. The difficulty in making an accurate and timely diagnosis in people living with HIV stems from unreliability of symptom-based screenings, low sensitivity of smear-based testing, lack of infrastructure and long delays to TB culture diagnosis.”

The 5th SA TB Conference opens on Tuesday, 12 June with plenary, parallel and satellite sessions taking place from Wednesday, 13 June to Friday, 15 June. For more information on AHF, visit either www.aidshealth.org or www.facebook.com/aidshealth.org