Experts Proffer Solution to Multidrug-Resistant TB, Malaria in Africa

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Towards surmounting the burden of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and malaria in Africa, scientists from the West African sub-region have proffered new ways of tackling the diseases, with emphasis on the deployment of artificial intelligence as the most accurate method of diagnosing tuberculosis.

The experts, who led teams of researchers from the West African Network for Tuberculosis, AIDS, and Malaria (WANETAM) on different investigations on multidrug-resistant TB and malaria, found a 20 to 65 per cent prevalence of multidrug-resistant TB in West Africa, which, according to them, is higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s estimated prevalence of 5 to 20 per cent.

The scientists say their findings revealed that multidrug-resistant TB can be treated with strict adherence to the six months prescription medications, stating that they recorded many cases of non-adherence to regimented medications due to the unpleasant nature of the drugs and stigmatisation from the public.

Having discovered the major cause of multidrug-resistant malaria in Africa to be the use of unprecertified drugs with self-medication, the experts directed that malaria treatment should be administered only upon diagnosis, in compliance with WHO’s recommendations.

In an exclusive interview with one of the scientists, Alfred Amambua-Ngwa, who is a professor of genetics and immunology of infectious diseases, he asserted that the only way to address the challenge is adherence to the recommendations from the WHO  on malaria treatment.

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He said, “Our investigation in support of the Roll Back Malaria Programme in different countries across Africa, including Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, among others showed that people are using drugs that are not pre-certified with the right quality, and these are the things fuelling multidrug resistance.

“The solution we are proffering is that people should only get treatment with the recommended drug and they should only administer malaria treatment upon diagnosis.

“As you are aware, there is also a practice of self-treatment, where people buy drugs from the streets and drugstores. You should treat yourself only when you are properly diagnosed and shown to have malaria, while you must ensure to complete the treatment.”

The Gambian researcher, who lauded Cameroon’s historic introduction of malaria vaccine into its routine immunisation programme recently, noted that vaccination is an additional tool that will assist in getting that extra push for the decline of malaria in the West African sub-region.

Also, in a separate interview with a Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Global Health at the Medical Research Council, The Gambia, Martin Antonio, he emphasised the need for immediate family members of persons living with TB to desist from stigmatising or discriminating against them, saying these are some of the reasons found to be responsible for non-adherence to medications, which is a root cause of resistance.

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According to him, the one-year study, conducted in The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Benin, Togo, and Nigeria, also discovered that artificial intelligence can be a great tool in diagnosing TB accurately.

He said: “There are several reasons for multidrug-resistant in TB. It could be due to reinfection or the patient’s non-adherence to the drugs. We found that some patients were not taking the drugs as prescribed because the drugs could be unpleasant to their taste and body. And you can imagine if you’re taking a drug for six month, people could be tired of it and they may stop and that can develop resistance.

“So, we saw that the multidrug resistance was really quite high, due to some societal and cultural practices like stigmatisation of persons living with TB and others

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“To end this vicious cycle of resistance, we are charging family members to desist from stigmatising their relatives with TB, while they encourage them to be committed to taking their drugs religiously.

“Now we use what we call artificial intelligence to predict TB diagnosis. It’s so powerful and accurate, but at the moment, it’s done as a research. It’s not done as a routine yet. It’s still being used as a research tool.

Antonio further revealed that their work was the first ever clinical trial done in Africa on TB, stating that it was conducted in collaboration with other scientists who joined in a surveillance of multidrug-resistant TB in West Africa.

The infectious diseases expert however linked the higher prevalence of TB in the West African sub-region to   cases of retreatment, which he said made its prevalence rate higher than the WHO’s estimate.

“The WHO usually estimates the prevalence of multidrug-resistant TB in these countries we worked in to be around 5 to 20 per cent.

“But when we conducted our research, we found that the prevalence of multidrug-resistant TB  to individuals on retreatment was between 20 to 65 per, cent” he stressed.

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