Business responding to the TB challenge.

Author:Kamble, Shaloo Puri

Health is increasingly an issue of importance for the business sector. As was stated by Alex Azar, senior vice-president for corporate affairs with Eli Lilly, one of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies, "Businesses have a fundamental responsibility towards both their employees and the wider community."

An increase in TB rates in sub-Saharan Africa is driven largely by the HIV/Aids epidemic. In 2007, South Africa was among the top five countries in the world with the highest number of incidences of TB, at 460,000 cases, with multidrug resistant (MDR) TB cases numbering 16,000. Worryingly, extremely drug resistant TB (XDR-TB) has been recorded in all provinces of the country.

TB, an infectious disease, mostly affects adults in the most productive age group of 15-54 years. Like the common cold, it spreads through the air. When a person infected with TB coughs, sneezes or spits, TB bacteria are propelled into the air and may infect others. Left untreated, a person with active TB infects, on average, 10-15 people each year.

TB is often misunderstood as being a disease of the past. The reality is that the disease is re-emerging as a global threat, although increased funding, stronger political support and greater convergence on policies and programming with better coordination between different players have heightened TB control efforts globally.

However, the world is threatened by an increasing number of TB/HIV co-infections and the challenge is further heightened by the growing incidence of MDR- and XDR-TB, inadequate healthcare systems, as well as the tools and drugs that were developed decades ago becoming less and less effective. So TB threatens Africa's productivity and future growth as TB (like HIV/Aids) mainly affects those in their most productive years.

TB rates in some South African businesses exceed 3% of the population a year and a sick worker will mean absenteeism, disrupted workflows and increased indirect costs for the employer in terms of increased medical and healthcare costs, recruitment and retraining costs. TB's cumulative productivity loss of individual and business earnings worldwide has been estimated at about $12-$16bn a year

With a staggering 70% of TB patients in South Africa infected with HIV, the importance of an integrated approach to care is clear. This is why the government is seeking the engagement of the business sector in its efforts to...

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