GOVERNMENT is on the verge of introducing a new method of testing tuberculosis using stool specimen for children under five years and people living with HIV.
This comes amid estimates that more than half of tuberculosis cases are not being diagnosed due to the difficulties of using sputum to test for the disease.
Traditionally, a mixture of saliva and mucus coughed from the respiratory tract (sputum) is used to test TB.
This has been difficult to extract especially from young children under five years and ill HIV patients.
Ministry of Health and Child Care deputy director for AIDS and Tuberculosis, Dr Charles Sandy, said a pilot programme was currently underway to test the method’s effectiveness.
“TB is difficult to diagnose in children and people living with HIV because diagnostic tests for pulmonary TB are based on sputum.
“Children, especially those under the age of five and people living with HIV, who are seriously ill, usually cannot expectorate sputum on demand,” said Dr Sandy.
“This leads to delays in the diagnosis as the patients need to be referred to a higher level facility.
“In order to improve early diagnosis and treatment initiation in children, a simple test with quick results and access at lower levels of healthcare where children report is essential.
“The use of stool as a specimen offers potential for a quick and accurate diagnostic test that includes drug resistance, simple processing and access to diagnosis at a decentralised level.”
A training programme for selected health practitioners had been conducted to pilot the method in some districts.
“In August 2019 a three-day training for laboratory scientists and clinicians in Harare, Bulawayo, Beitbridge and Chipinge was conducted on collection, handling and processing of stool specimens,” he said.
“The pilot is still running till March of 2020 after which an evaluation will be done to inform a national roll out.”
The new method was developed by a global expertise centre for TB control in Netherlands.
It has proven effective in Ethiopia and Indonesia.