Friday, 31 March 2017

Zambia Launches US$45 Million World Bank Funded TB Project

The banner for the TB project
By Paul Shalala

Mining activities in Zambia bring the much needed revenue for development.

Being the second largest copper producer in Africa, Zambia largely depends on taxes from the mines to cushion its coffers.

However, mining has its own effects on people's health.

Tuberculosis (TB) is one disease which is predominantly found in mining towns.

For example, the Copperbelt Province has the highest cases of TB among provinces in the country.

According to Ministry of Health records, out of every 100,000 Copperbelt residents, about 1,112 have TB.

This figure is higher than the national average for 2014 which stood at 39 TB cases per 100,000 residents in 2014, according to World Health Organisation (WHO)’s TB Country Profile for Zambia.

Health Minister Dr. Chitalu Chilufya
“TB is an emergency. It must be fought in an urgent manner. We need a multi-sectoral approach to defeat it,” said Health Minister Dr. Chitalu Chilufya in Kitwe yesterday when he launched the Southern Africa Tuberculosis and Health System Support Project.

The World Bank funded project is aimed at fighting TB in mining towns where thousands of residents are patients.

The World Bank has incorporated the Ministries of Health, Labour and Mines to implement the project, with the Ministry of Health being the lead.

In the next five years, the three ministries will work together to fight TB in the mining sector.

“The impact of TB on the economy is big. Loss of productivity, loss of man hours and the loss of family income,” added Dr. Chilufya.

Labour Minister Joyce Simukoko, believes that the project will help miners access health services.

Labour Minister Joyce Simukoko
“My office has been receiving cases of miners fearing to report their illnesses to their superiors for fear of being fired. I want to warn employers that we will not spare anyone who threatens workers. They deserve to have medical help,” said Mrs Simukoko.

Meanwhile, World Bank Country Manager Ina Ruthenberg disclosed that the Southern Africa Tuberculosis and Health System Support Project is being implemented in a total of four Southern African countries at the total cost of US$122 million.

She named the countries as Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Zambia.

“The project will therefore support the implementation of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Heads of State Declaration of 2012 on TB as an Emergency in the Mining Sector and will also support the region and Zambia’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, which include TB and the World Health Organisation’s End TB Targets,” said Ms Ruthenberg in a speech read for her by World Bank Senior Health Specialist Ronald Mutasa at the launch of the project.

In the course of the implementation phase, a Center of Excellence will be built at the Kitwe-based Occupational Health and Safety Institute where equipment will also be installed.
World Bank Senior Health Specialist Ronald Mutasa

The equipment will help in early detection and surveillance of TB.

According to Occupational Health and Safety Institute Director Dr. Connard Mwansa, the Center of Excellence will make service delivery easy for the miners.

"We will be able to conduct various services we do not currently do. Most cases we refer miners to the hospital but when get the equipment, we will be able to provide alot of services at the center," said Dr. Mwansa in an interview.

Meanwhile, two unions in the mining sector have welcomed the Southern Africa Tuberculosis and Health System Support Project saying it will save many lives.

"We thank the World Bank for the US$45 million project. this will help the Occupational Health and Safety Institute finish the office they are constructing in Solwezi. As you know, the North Western Province has a number of mines and this project will help in our members there to be served in their area," said Mine Workers Union of Zambia General Secretary Joseph Chewe.

Another mine union had similar sentiments.

"This investment by the World Bank will go a long way. It will make the Occupational Health and Safety Institute a One Stop Shop for miners. This will save thousands of our members who are affected by Tuberculosis," said National Union of Miners and Allied Workers President James Chansa in an interview.

By law, any person who is employed as a miner is supposed to be examined by the Occupational Health and Safety Institute which is located at the Mine Safety Department in Kitwe.

Every year, miners are also expected to be tested at the institute at least once to check their fitness.

This workload, which sees thousands of miners besieging the institute's offices, makes the job a bit difficult for the workers and the idea of a mobile team to be testing the miners in various mines and towns is being piloted. 

According to the WHO’s 2015 Country TB profile for Zambia, the southern African country recorded five thousand deaths due to TB in that year.

The report also revealed that 41, 588 TB cases where reported in 2015.

Zambia has only had one prevalence survey of Tuberculosis.

The National Tuberculosis Prevalence Survey 2013 – 2014 revealed that TB occurs three times higher in urban areas than in the rural areas.

In terms of gender, the survey revealed that more males were burdened by the disease than females.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story was originally aired on TV1 on 30 March 2017 and it can be watched here. A follow up story specifically on the Regional Center of Excellence was also aired on TV1 on 01 April 2017 and its YouTube link can be accessed here.