African TB nurses lauded

[Image] South African nurse Mavis Malelane
is among those honoured with the
prestigious international award.
(Image: ICN)

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Ten African nurses are among a group of 12 from 11 countries lauded by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) for their tireless work in the fight against tuberculosis (TB).

The ICN/Lilly Award for Nursing Excellence is part of the partnership between the ICN and global pharmaceutical company Lilly, and is given as a reward and incentive to nurses working in high-TB burden countries. Nurses are nominated by their national nursing associations.

The ICN-Lilly initiative also offers an online database of facts, guidelines and other useful information, as well as training and education programmes for TB workers.

To date it has seen over 200 nurse trainers graduating from the programme, with a ripple effect spreading to thousands of nurses who are now equipped with the specialised knowledge and skills needed to competently detect, treat and manage TB.

The award ceremony was held to coincide with World Tuberculosis Day, which falls on 24 March each year. This celebrates the momentous day in 1882 when German doctor Robert Koch announced in Berlin that he had discovered Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the cause of the dreaded disease, and unlocked the secret to treating it.

The world day of commemoration is aimed at boosting awareness around the TB epidemic, and promoting programmes designed to eradicate it. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), someone contracts the disease every second, although it is preventable and curable. Around 1.8-million people succumb every year, mostly in developing countries. Many TB sufferers are also living with HIV/Aids.

“The international community has set a goal of universal access to prevention and treatment for all forms of TB, in adults and children, and among people living with HIV,” said UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon in his 2010 World TB Day message. “In this day and age, no one should be dying from TB. On this World TB Day, let us stay ‘on the move’ in this important fight.”

Outstanding achievements

According to the ICN, the recipients were honoured for their outstanding achievements in the campaign to wipe out TB, and “for living the example of the 2010 World TB Day slogan, ‘On the move against tuberculosis: innovate to accelerate action’.”

The announcement was made in Geneva, Switzerland, at the ICN headquarters.

South Africa’s Mavis Kedibone Malelane is among those honoured. South Africa carries a high TB burden, and a report on the USAid website states that the country is ranked fifth among the world’s 22 high-burden countries.

The WHO revealed in its 2009 global TB report that South Africa had close to 460 000 new TB cases in 2007. The incidence rate is high, about 948 cases per 100 000 people, compared to 338 cases per 100 000 in 1998.

There is a close relationship between TB and South Africa’s other major health burden, HIV/Aids, with almost 75% of TB patients co-infected with HIV. “We cannot fight Aids unless we do much more to fight TB,” said former president Nelson Mandela, speaking at the XIV World AIDS Conference held in Bangkok in 2004.

There are a number of programmes in place to combat the spread of TB in South Africa, such as the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative. President Jacob Zuma announced on World Aids Day in December 2009 that patients with both TB and HIV would receive treatment for both at the same time.

Malelane is a TB focal nurse at the Masakhane clinic in the Eastern Cape. She spearheaded an initiative to raise awareness among the community, and was able to significantly increase case detection. Malelane has also met the Department of Health’s requirement for detection of 80% of cases in her community.

The other recipients come from Ethiopia (Mohammed Yesuf Mohammed); Kenya (Solomon Murira Miriti); Lesotho (Mary Malebihan Letsie and Paballo Thatho); Malawi (Sharon Bisika); Mozambique (Safira Cuna); Swaziland (Samkelo Andy Simelane); Uganda (Aciro Yolanda Ottoo); and Zambia (Precious Nzala Chikotola).

The two non-African recipients hail from the Philippines (John Stuart Pancho) and Russia (Gul’shat Ablyazova).

Hard work rewarded

David Benton, CEO of the ICN, praised the nurses for their innovation, selflessness and dedication to their duty and their patients.

“From the nurses in Lesotho providing TB training to chiefs in the local community, to the Russian nurse who has developed a standard to avoid laboratory errors in TB diagnostics, and the nurse in the Philippines who trains nurses in the management of drug-resistant TB throughout the Western Pacific and South East Asian region – these 12 nurses are leading their countries in TB prevention, care and treatment,” he said.

Eliminating disease

World TB Day is held under the auspices of the Stop TB Partnership, an initiative launched in 2000 with the goal of eliminating TB worldwide. More than 1 000 partner organisations work together under the scheme. The secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and is administered by the WHO.

“On the occasion of World TB Day we appeal to governments, donors and the world scientific community to move forward on two paths,” said Dr Marcos Espinal, the Stop TB Partnership’s executive secretary.

He described the two paths as firstly, to increase funding for the implementation of current strategies, and secondly, to donate more funding to accelerating TB research.