Pharmaceutical company provides scooters for health workers to visit patients

The fight against tuberculosis (TB) in the Eastern Cape will receive a boost with the launch of the Scooter Project, an initiative of Sandoz, a global generics company, in partnership with the Department of Health in the Eastern Cape.

 The Scooter Project launch took place at the annual District Health Summit of the Department of Health in the Eastern Cape in Port Elizabeth on 24 October 2012.

Worldwide South Africa ranks the third highest in terms of TB disease burden with approximately 25,000 people dying from TB annually.

The Eastern Cape and specifically the Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan municipality has a TB incidence rate which is 24 % higher than the national average.

Two of the major challenges in the fight against TB are to increase the number of newly diagnosed patients, in order to initiate treatment early, and to ensure that those patients continue taking the medication and complete the treatment cycle.

To address these challenges, Sandoz is working in partnership with the Department of Health by sponsoring motorcycles to enable health workers to visit people in the Nelson Mandela Metro at their homes.

“The purpose of the project is to increase the detection of new TB cases, and to encourage patients who are on TB medication to complete the six-month course. Many patients stop treatment after a couple of weeks because they feel better,” said Vivian Frittelli, Head of Strategic Projects at Sandoz.

However, in the fight against TB it is also necessary to involve the whole community and educate them to prevent stigma and misconceptions about the disease. A research study conducted in the Eastern Cape found that many people avoid or delay going to a clinic because they believe that all TB patients may also be found to be HIV positive. “We know that there is a high co-infection of HIV and TB. People should, however, not be afraid to seek help because with appropriate early treatment TB can be cured,” said Frittelli.

This initiative of Sandoz is in line with Government’s five-year (2012 – 2016) National Strategic Plan on HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and TB and supports the provincial plans to revitalise its primary health care programme.

“We believe that home visits can contribute to encouraging patients to successfully complete their course of medication, and that through this personal touch in the homes of patients, the ensuing trust built up between the health workers and the community will ensure that new cases will be discovered,” said  Frittelli.

“A direct outcome of this intervention will be the reduction of cases that become resistant to treatment. If a TB case is detected early, medication that is taken meticulously over a six-month period will result in the patient being cured. A huge problem in treating TB patients is the tendency for patients to stop treatment after two months because they start feeling better, resulting in multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, known as MDR TB. Early identification of these cases and appropriate treatment will improve outcome and ultimately control of the disease,” he said.

 “We’re starting small with three off-road type scooters. Part of our commitment is to have the drivers trained, and five health workers have already obtained driver’s licenses.”

“We want to make sure that the scooter initiative is making a positive contribution in this area of low compliance, low new diagnoses and high drug resistance. But we are positive and we think that the model, once proven, can be replicated in other areas. We would also like other corporates to get involved, maybe even individuals.”

MEC for Health in the Eastern Cape Sicelo Gqobana said “It is our strong belief that a sound foundation for any health system will have to be based on strong primary care. To achieve this we have to get the communities involved. We therefore welcome this initiative of Sandoz and look forward to a constructive partnership.”

Gqobana pointed out that a district health system based on primary health care formed an integral part of the national health system.

“The importance of participation of individuals and communities cannot be overemphasized. The scooter initiative of Sandoz not only provides a workable solution to a problem, but it is also a very visible demonstration of community involvement and the establishment of a partnership between the private and public sectors.”