As the world unites to end tuberculosis (TB) on World TB Day, IOM is raising awareness of TB treatment for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South Sudan. TB remains a major public health concern in the country, especially in crowded environments like protection of civilians (PoC) sites where the risk of transmission is high.
Since January, IOM has operated a TB testing and treatment lab at the Bentiu PoC site, where nearly 120,000 South Sudanese are seeking protection from the ongoing conflict. Before the opening of the IOM programme, IDPs in Bentiu had lacked access to TB testing and treatment since the crisis broke out more than two years ago. The service is also available to people living in Bentiu town and surrounding areas.
“We want to raise awareness among the IDP community in Bentiu that IOM is providing TB testing and treatment. TB is a curable disease and the community should not be apprehensive to visit health care providers,” explains IOM Migration Health Programme Manager Kelsi Kriitmaa.
TB disproportionally affects the most vulnerable and impoverished populations, with 74 per cent of all TB/HIV cases worldwide found in Africa. In 2015, TB and HIV/AIDS were the second leading causes of death in the PoC sites. Already home to a weak health care system, the risk of TB in South Sudan is exacerbated by overcrowding and frequent population mobility that leads to inconsistent access to health services.
Since testing at the Bentiu PoC site began in January, IOM has tested 145 people for TB, with 24 people, or 16 per cent, testing positive. This figure is a worrying statistic that hints to a high prevalence of TB among the IDP community.
One patient, Mary,was diagnosed with TB in January after developing symptoms while eight-months pregnant with her third child. An IOM health promoter referred Mary to the IOM clinic, where she was tested and immediately started on treatment. Shortly after, Mary went into labour and delivered a healthy baby girl.
At an event today at the PoC site, IOM and health partners held activities to promote awareness among the Bentiu population about TB signs and symptoms, prevention measures and access to testing and treatment. Increasing early detection and treatment is vital to helping those with TB and mitigating the spread of the disease in the congested IDP site.
IOM health care staff work closely with Health Cluster partners and the National Tuberculosis Program at the South Sudan Ministry of Health to address TB needs in South Sudan. In addition, synergistic health and hygiene promotion activities seek to reduce morbidity in PoC sites through encouraging safe household hygiene habits.
IOM remains committed to providing lifesaving health services to vulnerable populations in South Sudan, including treating curable diseases like TB and preventing the spread of disease in crowded displacement sites.
TB treatment in Bentiu is made possible by the generous support of the Government of Japan and the Common Humanitarian Fund.