The Ministry of Health will undertake a nationwide tuberculosis prevalence survey at a cost of Sh350 million, the first since the country gained its independence in 1963.
Despite the infectious disease being the fourth leading cause of death in Kenya, health experts have been relying on figures based on the number of patients who seek tuberculosis treatment from health facilities to estimate the burden of the disease in the country.
“But we know that not everyone with TB comes to hospital. So we may be missing some infected people who could be contributing to the spread of TB as they haven’t been put on treatment,” said Dr Enos Masini, head of the national tuberculosis, leprosy and lung disease programme (NTLD) during Thursday’s launch of the survey.
The Health ministry estimates that about 100,000 cases of TB are reported annually in Kenya. However, it notes that another 20,000 remain undetected and untreated.
“Through this survey, we expect to reach these people and enable them to access appropriate TB diagnostic and treatment services,” stated Dr Masini.
He added that the survey results will also assist the ministry to deal with other challenges affecting the disease control in the country such as the emergence of drug resistance TB and patients who fail to complete recommended treatment doses.
The last TB prevalence survey was carried out in Kenya before independence in 1959. Back then, the HIV epidemic – hugely responsible for the current increase in TB cases – had not set in.
“So we can no longer rely on this old data to plan for the provision of TB services especially among people suffering from HIV,” stated Dr Nicholas Muraguri, the director of medical services at the ministry.
He added: “Without data we can’t know what we are dealing with. We may actually be underestimating the burden of TB that we have.”
The survey will target individuals above 15 years old and is expected to take about 10 months.
Those participating in the survey will be interviewed on TB features, requested for a chest x-ray and asked to provide sputum (mucus from the throat).
“We will use this to determine the number of people affected with TB,” stated Dr Jane Ong’ang’o, Kemri scientist who will co-ordinate the survey.
Kenya is ranked 15th among the 22 high-burden countries that account for more than 80 per cent of the world’s tuberculosis cases.
The World Health Organisation recommends that all these countries carry out a prevalence survey to accurately assess the real burden of the disease.
Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria which most commonly affects the lungs. An infected person expels the germs into the air when they cough, sneeze, laugh or sing. The disease is then spread from person to person as people inhale these germs.
The symptoms of TB include persistent coughing (sometimes with sputum or blood), chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats.
The disease is however treatable with a six-month course of antibiotics.
The drugs are given free of charge in public, faith-based and some private health facilities.