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Keynote address by Deputy President David Mabuza at the World TB Day commemoration, Northern Cape Province

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Premier of the Northern Cape Province, Dr Zamani Saul,
Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla,
Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dlhomo,
Deputy Minister of agriculture, Ms. Rosemary Nokuzola Capa,
Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Dr, Reginah Mhaule,
Deputy Minister of Employment and Labour, Ms. Boitumelo Moloi,
Mayor of the Frances Baard District, Cllr Patrick Marekwa,
Deputy Chairperson of SANAC, Ms Steve Letsike,
Chairperson of the SANAC Private Sector Forum, 
Religious, Traditional and Khoi-San Leaders, Traditional Health Practitioners,
Developmental partners,
Distinguished guests, 

Today we gather here at Barkley West, in the Frances Baard District Municipality to commemorate the World Tuberculosis Day.

It is a day in 1882, when Dr Robert Koch discovered the bacterium that causes Tuberculosis, thus paving a way towards the diagnosis and curing of TB. Since then life has never been the same. 

In a similar way we responded to the COVID-19 pandemic when it hit us two years ago as we adopted measures to respond to the pandemic as a new health and socio-economic challenge. 

As a society, we have gone through hardships of losing the lives of our loved ones, endured restrictions on our freedoms, and experienced a serious decimation of economic livelihoods in a manner that exacerbates existing challenges of unemployment and poverty. 

In the process, we have found a way of how to co-exist with the coronavirus through the observation of newly established primary and secondary health protocols. Without a doubt, our lives will never be same, as we will continue to live alongside the coronavirus. 

Now we know what to do to avoid  COVID-19, and appropriate vaccines have been developed to protect humanity from its devastation. By taking COVID-19 vaccines, we would be protected, just as we will be cured from TB by taking medication when infected by the disease. 

We therefore commemorate this day to raise awareness about TB itself, in order to reinforce the long-established health protocols as part of intensifying our efforts towards ending this disease as a global health threat. 

The World Health Organisation tells us that TB remains among the top ten leading causes of death in the world. For South Africa, the same is true.  Even though TB is preventable and curable, in our country it remains one of the leading causes of death. 

What an irony that in Frances Baard District District Municipality, 140 years later since this bacteria wasdiscovered, the municipality has a high TB rate and is the hardest hit in the Northern Cape Province - even though the population of the province is small and highly dispersed. 

It is for this reason that we chose this district in the Province of the Northern Cape as an attempt to raise awareness and mobilise communities in the fight against TB. 

Frances Baard is not alone, but there are a number of other  districts in various provinces with a high burden of TB. 

It is precisely for this reason that we resolved to rotate the commemoration of this day to reach all those TB high burdened districts of the country. 

By bringing the commemoration to the people of Frances Baard District Municipality, we hope to: 

-       resuscitate the commitment from leaders to mobilise resources for TB response 

-       raise awareness about Tuberculosis 

-       encourage a culture of health-seeking behaviour which then leads to early detection of diseases and timeous initiation on treatment 

-       help find the missing TB-infected persons 

-       help find the lost-to-follow-up TB-infected persons 

-       help combat TB related stigma and discrimination 

-       remind people that TB is curable 

We are pleased to note the continued progress made by South African TB Caucus Secretariat within SANAC for their encouraging efforts in establishing TB Caucuses in all nine provinces of the country. 

This forms part of the Global TB Caucus that is made up of over 2 300 members from 130 countries across the globe. This initiative is important in enabling legislators to advocate for the financial resources towards TB response, and to marshal policy reforms necessary in TB programme implementation. 

Two weeks ago, Limpopo became the latest province to launch its TB Caucus with Gauteng joining yesterday. On behalf of SANAC and the country, we would like to congratulate them for the progress made. 

We also take comfort that as a country, we are united in our fight against TB, HIV and other opportunistic infections. It is through unity of purpose that we can effectively tackle social determinants that fuel the spread of these diseases. 

With the launch of the SANAC Private Sector Forum last year, our united front to fight TB has been further strengthened as we now all of us speak in one voice to advance the health and human rights of people living with TB and HIV co-infections. 

This united action in the fight against TB, HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections, helps us in the sharing of experiences, pulling together of resources and expanding our reach in order to bring everyone who is infected into treatment. 

It also ensures that we mobilise human and financial resources required to strengthen our health system, thereby improve quality health outcomes especially for the most vulnerable in informal settlements, in rural villages and many other strained parts of our country. 

Where previously we may have been working in fragmented manner, such unity of purpose would ensure that we work in a much more coordinated and efficient manner. 

Our collective and joined-up efforts are further strengthened by the pledge being made by traditional and Khoi-San leaders, inter-faith leaders as well as traditional health practitioners around the country, to work with government in scaling up interventions that would end TB and HIV as public health threats. 

In this sector, we have found champions who are willing to raise their hands and ensure that social ills in our communities are confronted and tackled. 

Through collaborative partnerships with traditional and Khoi-San leaders, traditional health practitioners, and inter-faith leaders, we have set out a firm path to intensify and accelerate prevention measures against HIV transmission, the prevention of the spread of TB, reduction of Covid-19 infections, as well as strengthening our fight against substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence and femicide. 

Let me take this opportunity to thank these leaders for fruitful and constructive engagements in our quest for broad-based mobilisation of communities in the fight against TB, HIV and AIDS, COVID-19, and all social ills that continue to plague our communities. 

With the leadership of the Premier and SANAC structures in the Province, we have agreed on the process of strengthening the implementation of focused partnership programmes that will ensure that communities present themselves to health facilities for TB screening, HIV testing, COVID-19 vaccination and other notifiable diseases. This will ensure that people are initiated into appropriate treatment and support measures. 

We have go to where the people live, mobilise every village, and ensure that we reach every household with people who need help. 

These mobilisation efforts should seek to translate into action the theme for this year, which is ‘Invest in Action to End TB NOW! Get Screened. End Stigma. Save Lives’. 

It is a theme that calls on every South African to invest in various actions to contribute towards the national and global efforts to end TB. 

The theme is aligned to the Global Theme, Invest to End TB. Save Lives, a call to world leaders in various sectors to ensure that sufficient resources are made available for the TB response. 

These investments include policy shifts, financial resources and daily actions by individuals in order to end TB. 

The case for investment goes beyond the monetary aspect as it also speaks to the little actions an individual could do to contribute towards ending TB, such as deciding to get screened or to start and stay on treatment if infected. 

The theme also encourages for urgency in prioritising TB prevention, diagnoses, treatment and care. 

Although we had made much progress towards ending TB, the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergency response towards it, reversed some of the progress that we had made as a country. 

That as it may be, is not an excuse for us to decry the situation, but rather it poses an opportunity for us to work harder and with more urgency to catch up and save more lives. 

We need all hands-on deck when advancing the TB agenda. 

To this end, SANAC has established the TB Technical Working Group with representation from key role players inclusive of government, civil society and development partners. Each stakeholder must be counted in the national efforts against TB. 

Distinguished guests,

At last year’s commemoration of World TB Day, we received an impassioned plea from the sector of People living with HIV, for government to declare TB as a national emergency. 

In response, as government, we have put together a TB Recovery Plan in an effort to address the issues raised by People Living with HIV. 

This plan will help us to come closer to eliminating TB as a public health threat. It will also help us address challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and close gaps in the TB care cascade. 

Finding the missing undiagnosed people with TB and linking them to quality care remains a priority for us. There are four key areas to the TB Recovery Plan namely:

1.   Finding the undiagnosed people with TB in our communities. This includes the health check mobile application for TB that has been recently developed with the aim to mobilise 1 million people in communities to check their symptoms and assist in linking them to health care facilities as needed; 

2.   Strengthening of linkage to care, by making sure that patients diagnosed in hospitals and primary health care facilities are linked to quality TB care; 

3.   Strengthening retention in care by ensuring that patients complete the full course of TB treatment. Interruptions in treatment have serious consequences for ongoing transmission and sometimes lead to a resistant form of tuberculosis; and 

4.   TB Prevention by strengthening infection control measures and treatment of latent tuberculosis, including the use of newer shorter treatment regimens. 

We are pleased to announce that some components of the TB Recovery Plan are already being implemented, such as the outreach activities to screen, test and link individuals to care as we have been doing in this Province since this past Monday. 

Furthermore, this year we will conclude the current National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs for the period from 2017 to 2022, and we are in the development of the new Plan for the period 2023 to 2028. 

Today also marks the official launch of the new National Strategic Plan development process. The Plan provides a renewed sense of hope for people living with HIV and will be the last one towards Agenda 2030. 

We have thus far, made some inroads in this regard, including securing technical and financial support from our development partners like the UNAIDS, World Health Organisation, GIZ, UNESCO, UNICEF, the Global Fund and PEPFAR. We appreciate their continued support.   

Although we have had some challenges against efforts for epidemic control, South Africa has managed to meet and surpass the first 90 of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets which is people knowing their HIV status. 

We are now working harder and more diligently to meet the other two 90s of those that are diagnosed with HIV being on treatment, and those that are not treatment having a suppressed viral load. 

All these are aimed at accelerating our efforts towards the new targets of 95-95-95. 

Working together, we can achieve these targets. 

This World TB Day Commemoration also marks and celebrates the comparative advantage of the South African National AIDS Council’s unique coordination role. 

Furthermore, through SANAC, we have ensured robust monitoring and evaluation in line with Goal 8 of the National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs that calls for the strengthening of strategic information to drive progress towards the achievement of our goals. 

We have established the SANAC Situation Room, which is an innovative data visualisation platform which allows decision makers, programme managers and implementers to analyse and view HIV, TB and STIs data. 

The SANAC Situation Room will ensure HIV, TB and STIs data transparency and quality at national, provincial, district and local levels. 

At a click of a button, it is now possible to visualise performance nationwide, against set targets for HIV, TB, and STIs programmes for different populations as outlined in the National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs 2017 to 2022. 

Distinguished guests,

This year’s theme for the commemoration of World TB Day also focus on combating stigma and discrimination against those who have contracted Tuberculosis, as one of the most serious hurdles in our HIV and TB response. 

We have a responsibility to show care for those who are diagnosed with TB in our communities and encourage them to seek medical care, rather than stigmatise them. 

The 2021 Global Tuberculosis report made findings that reduced access to TB diagnosis and treatment in the past two years has resulted in an increase in TB deaths.  

This cannot continue. 

It is important to note that the year 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the development of the ‘AIDS Consortium Charter for Human Rights for People Living with AIDS’. 

We are currently updating the charter with the process having started in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape Provinces. In the next six months, consultations will be done in all provinces. 

We are expecting to launch the updated ‘Human rights Charter on HIV and TB for key and Vulnerable Populations’ later this year during the commemoration of World AIDS on the 1st of December. 

Our fight against TB remains strong. We are encouraged by the courage of all of us in SANAC to win this battle. Let us today further commit ourselves to making the required investment to end stigma and save lives! 

It is through such united approach that we will be able to end to end TB-related deaths by 2030. 

TB is curable and TB is preventable! 

Thank you!