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April 6, 2021

The Clock is Ticking: Ending TB by 2030

The Clock is Ticking: Ending TB by 2030

By Eric Kneedler, Chargé d’Affaires, a.i., U.S. Embassy Nairobi

Tuberculosis (TB) killed an estimated 1.4 million people globally in 2019, more than HIV and malaria combined.  World leaders committed to eradicate TB by 2030 and a sense of urgency is more important now than ever. Today is World TB Day and the theme “The Clock is Ticking” reminds us that we have less than a decade to eradicate the world’s deadliest infectious disease.  Kenya is a critical part of the global effort to eradicate TB through the National TB Program and  the United States is proud to continue supporting Kenya through TB testing, treatment, and training for health care workers as well as public education campaigns.

TB treatment is free in Kenyan public health facilities, courtesy of the Government of Kenya and development partners, including the United States.

TB is curable.  Kenya embraced the goal of ending TB by 2030 and is making significant progress, despite formidable challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, the fear of contracting COVID-19 has discouraged many from visiting health facilities even if they display TB symptoms and precious time is being lost before testing and treatment can begin.

TB attacks the lungs and other organs, and in 2019 infected an estimated 140,000 Kenyansncluding 8,393 children, with 33,000 people dying of the disease.  HIV status does not determine your risk of contracting TB.  Of the 33,000 Kenyans who died of TB in 2019, 20,000 were HIV negative.  More than half of all TB cases are men and forty percent of new TB cases remain undetected in communities, putting all at risk of infection.  The good news is that there is some evidence that mask wearing is reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses such as TB.  But masks do not replace the need to identify, test, and treat all cases of TB.

The United States commits KSh 60 billion annually to combat TB, HIV/AIDS, and malaria in Kenya.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are at the forefront of our efforts to help treat Kenyans already infected with TB, test widely to stop the spread of TB, and support the Ministry of Health’s prevention and control programs.

For example, USAID supported a mass media campaign reaching millions of Kenyans explaining TB symptoms and encouraging testing in response to the decrease in TB patients being identified during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The United States trained over 2000 health care workers and supported community outreach and screening efforts to find missing TB cases and raise awareness.  As a result, USAID helped identify approximately 73,000 TB cases in 2020.  USAID support also helps Kenyan TB patients complete their free treatment with about an 85 percent success rate.  With U.S. support, Kenya is launching new policies to curb TB and rolling out new injection-free treatment with fewer side effects for drug-resistant strains.

CDC is supporting quality control of TB testing and helping create a patient-centered approach to treatment.  With CDC guidance and expertise, the Ministry of Health’s revisions to TB infection prevention and control guidelines include COVID-19 components and CDC is supporting counties’ efforts to establish integrated TB and COVID-19 programs.

It is particularly difficult to diagnose TB in young children, as they require special testing and treatment.  CDC research found that samples collected with less invasive techniques from children under five years old yielded similar results, making it easier to test young children.  With USAID support, the Komesha TB campaign helped diagnose more than 100 children during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to a mix of subsidized chest X-rays, contact tracing, capacity building, and peer support.  CDC has also adopted a “fish net approach” to find TB cases more effectively by integrating TB, COVID-19, and HIV screening, a benefit for all ages.

Jared Mbiuki is an example of the success of the U.S.-Kenya partnership in combatting TB.  Jared, who had struggled with a persistent cough and fatigue, was heading home from his job at a slaughterhouse in Tharaka Nithi County when he was offered screening during a USAID-supported outreach effort.  The 60-year-old was diagnosed with TB and immediately started free treatment.  “I am no longer coughing, no more fatigue, and I have added some kilograms,” a jovial Jared says. “I am more productive at work now.”

We must recognize that TB can affect anyone, regardless of whether you suffer from other illnesses such as HIV.  I encourage every Kenyan to learn about TB, recognize the symptoms, and seek help if you think you might be infected.  We are all in this fight together, so please join the effort to end TB for good: Pimwa TB, TiBiwa, Ishi poa!