HOSPERSA SLAMS GOVERNMENT FOR LOW TB FOCUS ON HEALTH CARE WORKERS

 

 

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HOSPERSA SLAMS GOVERNMENT FOR LOW TB FOCUS ON HEALTH CARE WORKERS

23 March 2018

 

Hospersa has critised government for the little focus given to the high prevalance of Tuberculosis (TB) cases amongst health care workers.  The Union has previously written to various government departments demanding action in addressing the alarming Occupation Health and Safety (OHS) contraventions that are endangering health care workers lives and putting them at risk in contracting TB at work.  The Union has now vowed to seek legal advise to force government to address the dismal working conditions subjected to their members where TB infections are rising at a frightening rate.

Every year on 24 March, we commemorate World TB day to raise awareness about the disease and this year’s theme as announced by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is “Wanted: Leaders for a TB-free world”.  It was on this date in 1882 that Dr. Robert Koch discovered the bacterium that causes TB, which led the way towards diagnosing and curing the disease.  However, TB still claims millions of lives worldwide.

According to the WHO, TB is the top infectious killer worldwide, claiming over 4 500 lives a day.  What is alarming for South Africa (SA) is that the country has the second-highest TB incidence amongst health care workers in the world.  It is estimated that health care workers are at a four to eight times’ higher risk of contracting TB than the general public.  The WHO statistics revealed that SA accounted for 21% of the reported incidents and there are still fears that the situation could be worse as many cases do not get reported.  Hospersa is calling for a robust approach towards addressing this alarming rate in health workers.

“We are concerned by the lack of intervention from the National Department of Health (NDoH) in addressing TB amongst health workers,” says Hospersa Occupational Health and Safety spokesperson, Fazeela Fayers.  “South African health care workers are neglected when it comes to prevention of TB exposure at work.  They are also the forgotten heroes in the fight for a TB-free world whereby those that do contract it at work are battling to claim workplace compensation,” said Fayers.

Last year, the National Strategic Plan (NSP) 2017 – 2022 on HIV, TB and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) was unveiled by the South African National Aids Council (SANAC).  The NSP 2017 – 2022 serves as a roadmap for a future where these three diseases are no longer public health problems.  The five-year plan sets out eight interrelated goals of which the third goal highlights the need to reach all key and vulnerable populations with customised and targeted interventions.  This goal also highlights the need for collaboration across sectors to enable the many thousands of organisations and individuals who drive the response to HIV, TB and STIs to act as a concerted force, moving in the same direction.

“However, the lack of attention given to the high prevalence of TB amongst health workers makes this goal a moving target,” argued Fayers. “The health care profession is losing qualified professionals at an alarming rate, as many health care workers fear the high occupational risks, and those who contract TB, contract Multi Drug-Resistant TB (MDR-TB), and TB outside of the lungs which is currently not compensated” said Fayers.

“One such incident where Occupational TB has had devastating results is on a health worker employed at Potchefstroom Hospital, North West Province,” said Fayers.  “The Hospersa member contracted TB of the spine in 2013.  Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) results showed that she had collapsed vertebrae five (5), six (6) and seven (7) as a result of the TB,” added Fayers.

“During our visit at Potchefstroom Hospital late last year, we discovered gross contraventions of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS),” said Fayers.  “Our members at the hospital confirmed that there are no routine screenings for staff members while some disclosed that the last screening took place in 2003.  We also noted that patients admitted in the general wards are not screened for TB as and when they get admitted which leads to staff members coming into contact with TB patients without being aware until it is too late.  The ultraviolet irradiation machines installed at the TB ward for controlling the transmission of TB are also poorly maintained while specialised TB masks are not provided to staff members but are only provided to patients with Multi-Drug Resistant (MDR) Tubercolosis and Extensively Drug Resistant (XDR) Tuberculosis.  However, these patients are often seen walking around the wards without wearing their masks,” added Fayers.

“On 3 October 2017, Hospersa met with the Director General (DG) for the National Department of Health and addressed some of these concerns,” mentioned Fayers.  “The DG acknowledged the department’s lack of an OHS policy and committed to a swift response to our call for an emergency task team to address these issues.  However, the DG is yet to act on this commitment,” said Fayers.

“We have also issued a memorandum of demand to the Ministry of Labour to enforce OHS compliance at the DoH after the embattled health department was issued with a section 7 notice in 2016 over the many OHS contraventions in public health facilities.  Furthermore, we have written numerous letters to the Minister of Health on without receiving any responses to our correspondence.  We will now look at the legal options available to us to force government to address our members’ concerns,” added Fayers.

“It is unacceptable for the DoH to turn a blind eye to our members’ genuine concerns.  We are losing the fight against TB due to the high incident rate amongst health care workers.  Government needs to act swiftly in addressing the escalating occupational TB rate if we are to have a fighting chance against the disease,” concluded Fayers.

 

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For interviews please contact–.  Hospersa OHS spokesperson Fazeela Fayers on 082-654-1368

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