South African Medical Journal

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The mass miniature chest radiography programme in Cape Town, South Africa, 1948 - 1994: The impact of active tuberculosis case finding

SM Hermans, JR Andrews, L-G Bekker, R. Wood


Background. Tuberculosis (TB) control programmes rely mainly on passive detection of symptomatic individuals. The resurgence of TB has rekindled interest in active case finding. Cape Town (South Africa) had a mass miniature radiography (MMR) screening programme from 1948 to 1994.
Objective. To evaluate screening coverage, yield and secular trends in TB notifications during the MMR programme.
Methods. We performed an ecological analysis of the MMR programme and TB notification data from the City of Cape Town Medical Officer of Health reports for 1948 - 1994.
Results. Between 1948 and 1962, MMR screening increased to 12% of the population per annum with yields of 14 cases per 1 000 X-rays performed, accounting for >20% of total annual TB notifications. Concurrent with increasing coverage (1948 - 1965), TB case notification decreased in the most heavily TB-burdened non-European population from 844/100 000 population to 415/100 000. After 1966, coverage declined and TB notifications that initially remained stable (1967 - 1978) subsequently increased to 525/100 000. MMR yields remained low in the European population but declined rapidly in the non-European population after 1966, coincidental with forced removals from District 6. An inverse relationship between screening coverage and TB notification rates was observed in the non-European adult population. Similar secular trends occurred in infants and young children who were not part of the MMR screening programme.
Conclusion. MMR of a high-burdened population may have significantly contributed to TB control and was temporally associated with decreased transmission to infants and children. These historical findings emphasise the importance of re-exploring targeted active case finding strategies as part of population TB control.

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