South Africa does not know how many people have multi-drug-resistant (MDR) TB, an epidemiologist from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said.
"Not everyone is tested for MDR TB. Only when treatment fails on a TB patient are further tests done to assess if a patient is resistant to other drugs," Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu said in a presentation on an overdue national survey of MDR TB in South Africa. He was speaking at the third South African Tuberculosis conference in Durban.
An average of 8 000 cases of MDR TB are reported each year through the National Health Laboratory Services surveillance system.
Ihekweazu said: "The country needs to plan how to manage the disease."
Last survey was ten years ago
MDR TB describes TB that is resistant to two of the major drugs used to treat normal TB – rifampicin and isoniazid.
"MDR costs 100 times what it costs to treat normal TB and it is also a big burden on the patient as it takes 24 months to treat. It also requires extended periods of hospital stay, [often] taking the bread-winner away from home," Ihekweazu said.
"For the survey, all new patients in randomly selected health care facilities with suspected TB will be recruited consecutively."
The survey would begin on June 18 and be done at 349 facilities in the country.
Ihekweazu said it was recommended that a survey be done every five years. South Africa had last conducted a survey 10 years ago. The survey would be led by the health department, in conjunction with the NICD and other partners.
(Sapa, June 2012)