Africa

The world is facing an unprecedented crisis related to the COVID-19 pandemic with many unknowns, which has led to much confusion and anxiety. Public health measures have for centuries been the cornerstone of the response to epidemics. Among them, physical distancing measures aim to reduce contact between infected and uninfected people. As part of the global COVID-19 response, they have been widely used to slow down the spread of the virus in several countries. Despite their overall acceptance, they have been poorly documented, particularly in Africa, and debates persist on their appropriateness and practicality in the context of low-income countries. This article describes the implementation of these measures in four West-African countries—Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Guinea—and discusses people’s willingness to comply with them. We describe these measures and discuss the importance of considering the socio-cultural, economic and political context to choose the most appropriate and effective measures and propose ways to explore strategies that are potentially better adapted to the African context.

This study was undertaken to explore childhood malnutrition problems that are associated to household wealth-related and mother’s educational attainment in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Secondary data from birth histories in 35 SSA countries was used. The Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data of 384,747 births between 2008 and 2017 in 35 countries was analyzed. Based on the results, Burundi (54.6%) and Madagascar (48.4%) accounted for the highest prevalence of stunted children. Underweight children were 32.5% in Chad and 35.5% in Niger. Nigeria (16.6%) and Benin (16.4%) had the highest burdens of wasted children. The test for differences between children from urban vs. rural was significant in stunted, underweight, overweight, and anemia for household wealth status. Also, the difference in prevalence between children from urban vs. rural was significant in stunted, underweight, and wasted for mother’s educational attainment. Reduction in malnutrition could be achieved by socioeconomic improvement that is sustained and shared in equity and equality among the populace. Interventions which target improvement in food availability can also help to achieve reduction in hunger including communities where poverty is prevalent.

This commentary highlights the challenges for pharmacovigilance (PV) posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and how PV practitioners in Africa can use this opportunity to strengthen patient safety. The commentary discusses remedies that lack clinical evidence and are potentially dangerous and the hidden effects of irrational use of medicines and medical products. It also examines the increase in poor reporting of adverse effects as well as the weakening of PV systems. It concludes that drug safety practitioners need to be vigilant about these risks and strengthen reporting systems to document, characterize, communicate, and minimize the risks of such remedies.

In the last decade, many strategies have called for integration of HIV and child survival platforms to reduce missed opportunities and improve child health outcomes. Countries with generalized HIV epidemics have been encouraged to optimize each clinical encounter to bend the HIV epidemic curve. This systematic review looks at integrated child health services and summarizes evidence on their health outcomes, service uptake, acceptability, and identified enablers and barriers. Interventions of interest were HIV services integrated with: neonatal/child services for children <5 years, hospital care of children <5 years, immunizations, and nutrition services. Outcomes of interest were: health outcomes of children <5 years, integrated services uptake, acceptability, and enablers and barriers. Twenty-eight articles were reviewed. Service integration had positive effects on child health outcomes, HIV testing, and postnatal service uptake. Integrated services were generally acceptable, although confidentiality and stigma were concerns. Each clinical “touch point” with infants and children is an opportunity to provide comprehensive health services. In the current era of flat funding levels, integration of HIV and child health services is an effective, acceptable way to achieve positive child health outcomes.

Ethambutol (EMB) resistance can evolve through a multistep process, and mutations in the ubiA (Rv3806c) gene appear to be responsible for high-level EMB resistance in Mycobacterium tuberculosis. We evaluated the prevalence of ubiA and embB (Rv3795) mutations in EMB-resistant strains originating from Africa and South Korea. No differences in embB mutation frequencies were observed between strains from both origins. However, ubiA mutations were present in 45.5% 6.5% of the African EMB-resistant isolates but in only 9.5% 1.5% of the South Korean EMB-resistant isolates. The ubiA mutations associated with EMB resistance were localized to regions encoding the transmembrane domains of the protein, whereas the embB mutations were localized to regions encoding the extramembrane domains. Larger studies are needed to investigate the causes of increased ubiA mutations as a pathway to high-level EMB resistance in African countries, such as extended EMB usage during tuberculosis treatment.

To improve tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis, many national TB programmes have committed to deploying Xpert® MTB/RIF. Implementation of this relatively new technology has suffered from a lack of comprehensive technical assistance, however, including the formulation of policies and plans to address operational issues. While providing technical assistance, we observed numerous operational challenges in the implementation and scale-up of Xpert in five sub-Saharan African countries: low coverage, poor laboratory infrastructure, limited access, poor linkages to treatment, inadequate data on outcomes, problems with specimen transport, diagnostic algorithms that are not aligned with updated World Health Organization recommendations on target patient groups and financing challenges. We recommend better country preparedness and training, laboratory information and quality systems, supply management and referral mechanisms.

We set out to evaluate the variation in prevalence of drug resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) and its determinants across sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries--excluding South Africa--among new and previously treated TB patients. A search of PubMed, EMBASE, Cochrane and bibliographies of DR-TB studies yielded 726 studies published between 2003 and 2013, of which 27 articles fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Studies reported drug susceptibility testing results for a total of 13,465 new and 1,776 previously treated TB patients. The pooled estimate of any DR-TB prevalence among the new cases was 12.6%, while for MDR-TB this was 1.5%. Among previously treated patients, these were 27.2% and 10.3%, respectively. DR-TB (any and MDR-TB) did not vary significantly with respect to study characteristics. The reported prevalence of DR-TB in SSA is low compared to WHO estimates. MDR-TB in this region does not seem to be driven by the high HIV prevalence rates.

As HIV care services continue to scale-up in sub-Saharan Africa, adequate tuberculosis diagnostic capacity is vital to reduce mortality among HIV-infected persons.

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