Using technology to improve tuberculosis health care

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Every year, about 10 million people get tuberculosis (TB), a curable disease in which bacteria attack the patient’s lungs. Globally, only about half of people with TB are diagnosed each year. Many other people with TB go undiagnosed and untreated, in part due to lack of access to quality health care systems, particularly in resource-limited settings and marginalized groups.

Charity Oga-Omenka, a professor in the School of Public Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo, shares how her research examines health care travel for persons with tuberculosis throughout Nigeriain India and Indonesia, and private sector health care providers access to quality TB care in these locations.

If, for example, a patient were to go to a community pharmacy complaining of a cough, the pharmacy would likely not perform an investigation and would only recommend cough medicine or even an over-the-counter antibiotic. Meanwhile, a patient who applies to a state clinic with tuberculosis services will likely be examined and diagnosed by a doctor,” explains Oga-Omenka.

“My research focuses on the main reasons why some people may come to the clinic at the right time and others not. Or, if they do come to the clinic, what are the main reasons why the health care system does not diagnose them?”

In addition to being born and raised in Nigeria, Oga-Omenka has worked for 10 years supporting the public health sector in the region. She worked with a large NGO in Nigeria funded by the US President’s Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Credit: University of Waterloo

This work sparked her passion to continue to support the public sector in low- and middle-income settings, as she saw first-hand how critical these programs were in researching, treating and supporting people with HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. in Nigeria.

“It was very empowering for me to realize that I could contribute to a program that provides interventions such as research, counseling and medication to critically ill patients and see them come back to life,” says Oga-Omenka, explaining her love . because public health comes from being able to change someone’s life.

“When you work at the public health level, you can see the huge impact these programs have as the number of patients you work with progress from being very ill to getting their lives back on track.”

Oga-Omenka plans to expand her research on TB health care services in Nigeria and other high-burden TB countries with prominent private health care sectors. Oga-Omenka and her team are currently interviewing people in the field to learn how technology can step in, or the challenges of existing technology, in solving problems that prevent people from making timely diagnoses.

Oga-Omenka hopes to collaborate with the Faculties of Engineering and Mathematics to develop web-based technologies as a resource to assist patients and their healthcare providers and managers in TB testing. Oga-Omenka hopes her team’s research into existing healthcare infrastructure, resources and technology will improve access to services for people seeking TB treatment and care.

A Waterloo researcher envisions a future where similar technologies to prevent COVID-19 can be used to tackle other health problems. Having an app that people can download to their phones to access a self-assessment tool and see a list of easily accessible healthcare providers and nearby facilities would be an ideal technology solution for the future of healthcare.

“In an ideal world, technology can help people optimize their health regardless of where they live. Imagine a world where people everywhere have tools and resources at their fingertips that they can use to make informed decisions about their health and their health. care providers can find them,” says Oga-Omenka.

“I believe Waterloo, by being at the forefront of cutting-edge technology and innovation, has the opportunity to help develop technologies that can help people in a variety of settings improve access to health care.”

The work appears before publication medRxiv and was accepted for publication BMJ Global Health.

More information:
Charity Oga-Omenka et al., Individual Health Care Seeking Pathways for Tuberculosis in the Nigerian Private Sector During the COVID-19 Pandemic, medRxiv (2023). DOI: 10.1101/2023.06.13.23291334

Provided by University of Waterloo

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Godfrey Kemp

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