The whole is greater than the sum of the parts: Recognising missed opportunities for an optimal response to the rapidly maturing TB-HIV co-epidemic in South Africa

Perumal, Rubeshan; Padayatchi, Nesri; Stiefvater, Ellen
January 2009
BMC Public Health;2009, Vol. 9 Issue 1, p243
Academic Journal
Background: Despite widely acknowledged WHO guidelines for the integration of TB and HIV services, heavily burdened countries have been slow to implement these and thus significant missed opportunities have arisen. Discussion: The individual-centred, rights-based paradigm of the SA National AIDS Policy, remains dissonant with the compelling public-health approach of TB control. The existence of independent and disconnected TB and HIV services results in a wastage of scarce health resources, an increased burden on patients' time and finances, and ignores evidence of patients' preference for an integrated service. The current situation translates into a web of unacceptable, ongoing missed opportunities such as failure to maximize collaborative disease surveillance, VCT, adherence support, infection control, and positive prevention. TB services present a readily identifiable cohort for HIV provider-initiated testing. Integrating HAART and DOTS will promote efficient usage of health workers' time and a more navigable experience for patients, ultimately ensuring increased TB treatment completion rates and MDR-TB prevention. As direct observation evolves into a more supportive, empowering experience for patients, adherence to both TB drugs and HAART will be bolstered. Little attention has been paid to the transmission of TB within HIV services. Low cost infection control interventions include: triaging patients, scheduling new and follow-up patients separately; well-ventilated, sheltered waiting rooms; and the use of personal respirators by patients and staff. A more patient-centred approach to TB care may be able to recruit the active participation of TB patients in positive prevention efforts, including maximizing personal infection control, limiting exposure of social contacts to TB during the intensive phase of treatment, advocating isoniazid prophylaxis within the home and patient-centred education efforts to reduce overall transmission. Several model programmes demonstrated synergy, in which the impact of the "whole" or integrated response was greater than the sum of the non-integrated parts. Summary: The full potential of an integrated TB-HIV service has not been fully harvested. Missed opportunities discount existing efforts in both programmes, will perpetuate the burden of disease, and prevent major gains in future interventions. This paper outlines simple, readily-implementable strategies to narrow the gap and reclaim existing missed opportunities.


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