41pc of Kenya's TB patients are unknown, fresh data shows

Patients await medical check-ups at the start of the Kenya Tuberculosis Prevalence Survey in Mshomoroni, Mombasa on September 25, 2015. FILE PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG
Patients await a medical check-up at the start of the Kenya Tuberculosis Prevalence Survey in Mshomoroni, Mombasa on September 25, 2015. The results were released today. FILE PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG 

About four out of ten Kenyans suffering from tuberculosis (TB) are unknown and could be fuelling the spread of the disease in the country.

Results of a nationwide TB prevalence survey launched Friday show that the health sector misses about 41 per cent of TB cases.

The new study shows that out of 138,105 Kenyans that contract the disease every year, only about 82,000 are captured by the health system.

“We need to know where these missing people infected with the disease are, so we can screen and put them on treatment to prevent transmission,” said Dr Enock Masini, head of the National TB, Leprosy and Lung Disease Program (NTLD) during the launch of the report in Nairobi.

According to the study, most Kenyans with TB symptoms do not seek care in health facilities, while the few that visit hospitals are sometimes informed that they do not have the disease when they actually have it.

TB prevalence much higher

The survey has shed light on TB incidence in the country as policy makers previously relied on inaccurate data, with the latest research now revealing that the disease burden is much higher than was previously thought.

In 2015, before the study was commissioned, the prevalence of the disease was thought to be 233 cases per every 100,000 Kenyans.

However, the fresh data now shows that it is actually 558 infections per every 100,000 people.

“Before, we were just dealing with estimates which weren’t accurate. Now we are happy to have the actual data from the ground which is precise and can therefore guide our TB management programmes,” said Dr Masini.

The last TB prevalence survey in Kenya was conducted in 1958 before the country gained independence.

Men have a higher risk of contracting TB and dying of the disease compared to women.

People in urban areas are also more vulnerable to the disease compared to those in rural settings.