Fresh campaign to retain masks in w*r against TB

Wednesday, March 16th, 2022 00:00 | By
From left: Director of Preventive, Promotive and Strategic Programmes at the Ministry of Health, Andrew Mulwa, Health Director General Patrick Amoth and Head of the National TB Programme Carol Asin during the launch of lung health policy documents in Nairobi, yesterday. PD/GERALD ITHANA

Not so fast. Kenyans who have discarded the face mask have been warned. Whereas many felt the mask’s sole role was  to fight Covid-19, experts say they have a raft of other health benefits. 

Yesterday, the government discouraged Kenyans against discarding the face-covers, saying they could help in fighting tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases such as the common cold and influenza.

It emerged that tuberculosis infections were on the rise in Kenya, with health experts predicting more deaths in the next three to four years. Kenya loses between 19,000 to 21,000 lives to TB annually. 

And in the 2020-21 period when Coronavirus ravaged the country and the world, Kenya recorded an estimated 25,000 fatalities. In view of this, Health Director General Patrick Amoth has advised Kenyans not to abandon the use of masks.

 “We still encourage you to use masks as much as possible because of the nature of spread of most respiratory diseases; such as TB and Covid-19,” he said after launching guidelines on continuity of essential healthcare services.

Dr Amoth said that even though the government has dropped the compulsory use of masks in outdoor settings, it will still promote their use in enclosed places such as public service vehicles, offices and social places.

 “Even while outside, there is nothing that stops you from using a mask,” he said. 

Sigh of relief

Last week, Kenyans heaved a sigh of relief after Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe lifted the requirement of wearing masks in outdoor settings.

“Kenyans are encouraged to wear face masks while attending indoor functions,” he said, adding that all in-person indoor meetings will now resume at full capacity.

Yesterday, health experts were unanimous that the Covid-19 pandemic had a negative impact on TB treatment programmes, not only in Kenya but across the world.

“The number of people who were on treatment were interrupted; either by the restrictions in place, including lockdowns, or because of re-purposing the healthcare workers to be able to deal with the surge in Covid cases,” they noted.

With fewer people coming to health facilities, detection and notification of  TB declined by nearly 25 per cent, compared with 2019.

There was a potential increased progression of  TB, while monitoring of patients on treatment reduced. This led to poorer treatment outcomes and an increase in TB burden and mortality.

It was also announced that funding for TB programmes decreased, leading to missed diagnosis and treatment. This, according to the Wold Health Organisation (WHO), led to 1.5 million TB deaths globally in 2020, out of which 214, 000 were co-infections with HIV.

“So, globally, more people died of TB, and more were infected with the disease,” Amoth said, noting that there is an increasing number of drug-resistant TB cases.

One in every three drug-resistant TB patient missed treatment because most healthcare programmes were focused on dealing with Covid-19, it emerged.

“Disruption of the TB treatment programmes led to development of these guidelines on continuity of essential healthcare services,” Amoth said. 

He noted that besides TB, family planning, immunisation, maternal and newborn child health, and HIV services were negatively affected.

This is part of the reason the government and partners came up with guidelines to ensure healthcare services continue, he said. “By ensuring we provide personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, continue with risk communication and community engagement, we tell the public and patients that it’s safe to come to health facilities, rather than stay at home if unwell,” he added.

Catch-up campaign

He disclosed that the government is doing a catch-up campaign to look for such missed cases due to the pandemic. 

“That’s why we are rolling out these guidelines together to ensure that those we missed during the pandemic are brought into the healthcare system for diagnosis and treatment,” he noted.

In 2020, Kenya reported 73,000 TB cases among adults and close to 5,300 cases among children.“So we are really concerned about the rising TB cases among children and adolescents; that’s the guidelines we have launched today,” he added.

Once disseminated with the help of county governments and implementing partners, Amoth said, healthcare workers will be sensitised on how to employ the guidelines to have a high index of suspicion for prompt diagnosis and treatment.    

According to the WHO, Kenya is one of the high burden TB, TB/HIV and Multi Drug TB countries in the world.

WHO country representative Juliet Nabyonga said there is a need for strong healthcare systems, trained workforce, increased access and quality services.

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