There has been a decline in the incidence rate of tuberculosis (TB) in South Africa, and the country is on course to meet the target set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to reduce the number of cases, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said Tuesday.

The minister announced that South Africa has seen a drastic improvement in TB testing, notification, and incidence due to the TB Recovery Plan implementation, adding that infection cases have dropped from 644,000 to 304,000 between 2009 and 2021.

Phaahla, who was speaking at TB Indaba 2023 before the 11th South Africa Aids Conference in Durban, shared that South Africa has experienced some improvement in testing, as 1.9 million tests were done in 2021 and 2.5 million tests took place last year, SA News reported.

"This gives us signs that indeed this recovery plan will take us back where we were before the pandemic," he said, pointing out that the TB Recovery Plan was to reverse the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and find undiagnosed patients in the country, apart from giving them treatment, care and prevention.

Even though the WHO target was to reduce TB cases to 215,900, the number exceeded 226,689 in 2022. However, the minister noted that South Africa was very close to WHO's given target, sharing that in 2021 the cases were only 187,735.

"These trends are consistent and robust and provide encouraging evidence that we are on track to meet global targets because that is where we best compare ourselves with other countries in the world," he explained. "We intend to move even faster and further to ensure that we fully recover losses suffered."

Based on 2021 numbers, the minister said that South Africa will soon meet the WHO target for a reduction in TB incidence rate in 2025 of 50%, adding the country was "likely to meet the 2030 SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] target of 80% reduction in TB incidence rate."

WHO had issued a list in 2021, which revealed that South Africa was on three global lists of high-burden countries for TB, HIV-associated TB, and drug-resistant TB. The organisation shared that over 110,000 people in the country dealing with TB lost their lives between 2020 and 2021.

Minister Phaahla noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns associated with the pandemic played a huge role in the increase of TB cases. However, the minister shared that since 2022, there has been some recovery.

He added the country was planning to introduce a more patient-friendly treatment and "a TB vaccine is advancing to a phase III trial in South Africa, with promising results."

"We will work toward a system that provides better care, through shorter regimens and tailored support in facilities and communities," he concluded. "We will work toward a system that values prevention as much as treatment and supports both the users and the providers of the health services."

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