8th South African TB Conference

The 8th South African TB Conference takes place in Durban from 4 – 7 June 2024 under the theme ‘Accelerating progress to end TB’.

TB HIV Care joins government, funders, partners and other stakeholders at the conference to put the spotlight on TB – and focus on strategies that bring South Africa closer to ending TB as a public health threat by 2030. These include:

  • targeted universal testing for TB (TUTT);
  • tuberculosis preventive therapy (TPT);
  • integrated TB and HIV services; and
  • new, community-led interventions like OneImpact South Africa.

As Prof. Harry Hausler, CEO of TB HIV Care, explains, TUTT focuses on testing those most vulnerable to TB, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.

“Often people are asymptomatic, and a delayed diagnosis allows TB to spread more easily, results in more complications and can even result in more deaths,” says Prof. Hausler. “With TUTT, we can ensure high-risk groups receive immediate sputum GeneXpert/NAAT testing, allowing them to start treatment early and be cured!” These groups include people living with HIV, newly diagnosed HIV-positive individuals, HIV-positive women who are pregnant, people who have had TB in the last two years, and close contacts of people with TB.

For Prof. Hausler, TUTT works hand in hand with TB preventive therapy (TPT) to address the high TB burden in South Africa.

“TPT is incredibly important in the fight against TB. It should be offered to anyone who has been significantly exposed to TB or is at risk of developing active TB disease. This includes all close TB contacts; adults, adolescents and children living with HIV; and people living with silicosis,” explains Prof. Hausler. “Importantly, South Africa has new guidelines and shorter regimens for TPT, making it much easier for clients.”

TB HIV Care Programme Director (Care & Treatment) Sandile Prusente believes that in the context of limited resources and competing program demands, integrating HIV and TB services is critical for the sustainability of programs.

“South Africa has a strong HIV programme. We have every opportunity to incorporate TUTT and TPT into HIV services, this means offering TB testing to people living with HIV at their annual viral loads; testing newly diagnosed HIV-positive clients (including those returning to care); and testing HIV-positive mothers-to-be at their first antenatal visit,” says Prusente.

New community-led interventions and innovations can also inform and impact South Africa’s TB response says Alison Best, TB HIV Care’s Community, Rights and Gender Specialist.

“One example is OneImpact South Africa, a platform whereby people affected by TB can engage with TB services, report any challenges or barriers, flag stigma or discrimination, get trusted information on TB, and chat online with other people with TB and survivors to get support. At the conference we will be presenting some of the work done in the Free State where some of the barriers to ex-miners accessing compensation for silicosis and/or TB have been recorded. These include a lack of knowledge of how to apply for compensation and a lack of resources to comply with the application process.”

The TB HIV Care team will be at stand 48 at the conference. All media enquiries to linsey.schluter@tbhivcare.org

 

International Harm Reduction Day

International Harm Reduction Day is marked on the 7th of May each year to advance – and advocate for – a harm reduction approach to drug use. For TB HIV Care CEO, Prof. Harry Hausler, harm reduction recognises that addiction often comes from a place of trauma and suffering. In response, arm reduction offers an alternative, non-punitive, non-judgemental, health and human rights approach to addiction.

In eThekwini, our team marked International Harm Reduction Day with a march. Various stakeholders, including Metro Police, SAPS, Aurum, MAAT Institute, Bellhaven Centre, and TB HIV Care PWID and sex worker staff, participated in the event. The march aimed to enhance awareness amongst the community and government about harm reduction, advocate for the expansion of public health services for individuals who use drugs, and address the stigma and discrimination they confront daily.

After the march, the programme featured presentations from distinguished advocates and medical professionals. A THC OST Doctor elaborated on the methadone programme, whilst a representative from Aurum discussed their tuberculosis services and also conducted TB chest X-rays. Andile Ngcungama, a THC Advocacy Officer, delivered a talk on human rights. The day concluded with powerful testimonies from clients whose lives have been transformed by the methadone programme.

In Nelson Mandela Bay our PWID team observed International Harm Reduction Day with a special event. The formal session refreshed attendees on harm reduction principles and included a ceremony to remember those who have passed away due to drug-related illnesses.

The celebration also included a vibrant session where attendees donned t-shirts in various colours, each representing different harm reduction themes. These colours were symbolic and facilitated engaging group competitions, adding an enjoyable and interactive element to the day’s proceedings.

These events reflect the community’s ongoing commitment to addressing and supporting the needs of people who use drugs, ensuring they receive respect, support, and access to necessary health services.

National Launch of U=U

On Tuesday, 7 May 2024 history was made at the KwaDlamini Sports ground, Ntabamhlope, Inkosi Langalibalele Municipality in uThukela District as South Africa proudly hosted the national launch of the groundbreaking U=U campaign. While this campaign had previously been launched with the support of TB HIV Care in the Eastern Cape (2022) and the Western Cape (2023), the national launch brought together leaders, advocates and communities in a spectacular showcase of unity and determination to end HIV transmission.

Michelle Carey (Demand Creation Manager)  attended the event with TB HIV Care CEO Prof Harry Hausler, and many of our PPPrev DREAMS team members from KwaZulu-Natal. According to Prof Hausler, “This is an important milestone in our efforts to end HIV in South Africa. Undetectable equals Untransmittable (U=U) means that people living with HIV (PLHIV) who take daily antiretroviral treatment (ART) can decrease the amount of HIV in their blood to the point that it is not detectable and at that point, will not transmit HIV onto their sexual partners. This empowers PLHIV to start and stay on ART both to protect their own health and the health of their sexual partners. We must implement U=U treatment literacy across all of our programmes, starting from the time of HIV testing, at the initiation of ART and throughout the HIV treatment journey. We should motivate PLHIV to come for their first viral load 3 months after initiating treatment and to celebrate when they have achieved an undetectable viral load.”

The event was graced by esteemed speakers who echoed the resounding message of hope and empowerment. Welcoming the campaign to KwaZulu-Natal, MEC Ms Nomagugu Simelane not only endorsed U=U as a game-changer but also highlighted its pivotal role in the progress of the fight against HIV. Ms. Saira Johnson-Qureshi, PEPFAR Country Coordinator, reaffirmed PEPFAR’s commitment to eradicating HIV by 2030, inspiring attendees with her dedication.

A particularly poignant moment came with the address by SANAC CEO Thembisile Xulu, who not only championed the U=U campaign but also emphasised the importance of prevention methods and HIV testing. Xulu’s words served as a reminder that knowledge is power and that understanding one’s HIV status is crucial in safeguarding both individual health and community well-being.

Dr. Joe Phaahla, Minister of Health, delivered a keynote address that underscored the significance of the U=U campaign in transforming the landscape of the HIV response across the nation. His words resonated deeply, setting the tone for a future of success and commitment.

Amidst the speeches and presentations, the atmosphere was electrified with the spirit of unity and determination. Attendees, numbering in the hundreds, engaged in traditional singing, dancing, and ululating, infusing the event with energy and optimism. It was a testament to the resilience and strength of South African people.

While every aspect of the launch was remarkable, special recognition must be given to the uThukela TB HIV Care team, led by Mpume Manyoni. Their dedication, professionalism, and warmth were evident throughout the day.

As the event drew to a close, the echoes of optimism and determination lingered in the air. As we said our goodbyes, the uThukela TB HIV Care team’s pledge to uphold the highest standards of service delivery serves as a reminder that together, we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions.