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More than 134,000 cases recorded in 2023

A team of health professionals and officials at the Ministry of Health have requested more than USD one billion in financing to fight tuberculosis in the coming seven years.

The request comes in light of a concerning rise in TB cases since 2021, threatening to undo six years of progress, which saw cases decline by 38 percent.

The team in charge of monitoring tuberculosis, leprosy, and other lung diseases (TBLLD) at the Ministry says drought and war have contributed to the rising transmission rates.

“The conditions have created fertile ground for worsening the transmission of the disease,” said Taye Letta, head of the TBLLD program. “They have paved the way for the rise we are observing in the spread of TB throughout the country.”

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Ten-year National TB Update data reveals there were close to 139,000 cases of TB reported in 2012. The figure had dropped to a little under 114,000 in 2022, but last year saw cases rise by more than 20,000.

Taye and his team have presented the Ministry and the representatives of international donors and aid organizations with a budget estimation of close to USD 1.1 million for a seven-year initiative to contain TB. The plan kicked off this year.

Health authorities say they require more than USD 136 million to fight TB in 2024 alone, with the budget slated to increase in subsequent years. TBLLD program heads foresee the need for USD 156 million in 2025, and a further USD 305 million for the two years following.

Taye and his team say they have only managed to raise 30 percent of the forecasted 2024 budget thus far.

“We’re searching for donors,” he told The Reporter.

Neither the Health Ministry’s program documents nor the heads of its program have disclosed what portion of the budget is to be covered by the government.

However, documents obtained by The Reporter indicate that while financing required for TB programs has grown from USD 93 million in 2018 to USD 125 million in 2022, the amount covered by domestic funding over those five years never exceeded USD 10.4 million annually.

The TB program ended 2020 with a 47 percent budget shortfall after receiving USD 10.32 million from domestic sources. By 2022, the shortfall had grown to 69 percent.

Heads of the program claim that TB treatment managed to reach an impressive 92 percent nationwide coverage in 2023, but the figures contrast with regional data.

Documents obtained by The Reporter show that only four regional states – Sidama, Gambella, Afar, and Somali – got full or nearly full TB coverage over the last six months, with nearly all TB-affected patients in these regions receiving medical treatment.

On the other hand, Central Ethiopia (68.5 percent), Tigray (66.5 percent), and Benishangul-Gumuz (65.8 percent), saw significantly less TB medical coverage. Patients in the Amhara Regional State fared the worst, with only 59.6 percent receiving treatment.

Taye attributes the low coverage in Amhara to ongoing security concerns, while he says data collection in Tigray has been difficult.

Humera, Gambella, Gedeo, Guji, Borena, East Bale, West Harerge, Bench Sheko, and West Omo are among the worst affected zones in the country, where 150 out of every 100,000 residents were the victims of TB between 2021 and 2022.

“The number of cases registered in Gedeo has reached the highest level. I was there recently – you couldn’t walk one step without touching the TB infected area. If one foot is on the healthy side, the next step will be on the other,” said Tadele Awoke, a TBLLD team advisor.

Ministry data reveals more than 58 percent of TB cases reported affect people between the ages of 25 and 45, while more than a quarter of all cases are diagnosed in patients between 25 and 34.

“This is because these segments of society are engaged in labor. They include youth employed in mining. Vast numbers of people move a lot for work, opening them up to exposure and repeated infections,” saud Taye.

Reports also indicate worrying lapses in the treatment of drug resistant TB, with patients in the Tigray, Amhara, Southern, and Oromia regional states receiving the least amount of treatment for drug resistant strains of TB.

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