For the first time since the advent of COVID-19, South Africa held its first physical TB conference under the theme “Working Together to Get TB Control Back on Track” at Durban’s International Convention Centre in KwaZulu Natal from 13 to 16 September.
The conference created a great platform for SANAC to solicit more inputs and contributions in the draft National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs for the period 2023 to 2028. A total of six sessions over a period of four days were hosted by SANAC, all of which enjoyed maximum participation by conference delegates – the session hall was filled to capacity for every single one of the six sessions.
The sessions focused on the new NSP framework which will translate into the Goals of the new NSP, the draft of which will be ready for public comment in November. One of the sessions focused on the South African TB Caucus and chaired by the Deputy Minister of Health Dr. Sibongiseni Dhlomo who has been instrumental in the establishment of the country Caucuses since the work began when he was the Chairperson of the Health Portfolio Committee in parliament. The session was also attended by provincial speakers, Limpopo Health MEC Dr. Phophi Ramathuba, Mpumalanga Health MEC Ms. Sasekani Manzini, North West Health MEC Mr. Madoda Sambatha and Mpumalanga Premier Ms. Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane. The high-level SA TB Caucus engagement focused on, inter alia, the role of parliamentarians in driving the country’s TB response through the Caucus.
SANAC CEO in Opening Plenary
Although the SANAC CEO, Dr. Thembisile Xulu had to leave the conference early to attend the Global Fund’s Replenishment Conference in the US, her participation in the Opening Plenary was well-received and she remained among the most quoted speakers throughout the conference week. Dr. Xulu participated in a panel during the Opening Plenary where she spoke about the need to improve non-biomedical interventions in the TB response, she said, “In order to make noticeable progress, we must acknowledge that TB is largely a social problem, our response and interventions should not just be biomedical.” Dr. Xulu also shared five interventions needed to get ‘TB Control Back on Track’ in line with the theme, she said, “As the theme of the conference suggests, we must work together to:
- End TB stigma and discrimination because these continue to be barriers against TB management.
- We must change our TB management approach to be more holistic by engaging multi-sectoral stakeholders at every stage of the elimination process in order to make positive change.
- We need to better understand the “lived” experiences of both health workers involved in TB control and TB clients themselves.
- We need to bring the lab closer to patients and enable a ‘test and treat’ approach in one visit, and leverage on progress we’ve made on diagnostic technologies and therapies for TB prevention and management
- We must keep the TB conversation alive so that we are never blindsided about its seriousness.