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24 March 2017


The Health and Other Service Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa) has planned nationwide activities on Tuberculosis (TB) during World TB Day to raise awareness on this infectious disease.  The Union will distribute surgical masks for patients and workers in waiting areas of various hospitals around the country. Hospersa will also collect health workers’ signatures for a petition to the Department of Health (DoH) to address the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) contraventions that are endangering health care workers lives and putting them at risk in contracting TB at work.


Today, 0n World TB Day, Hospersa has planned a number of gatherings at hospitals around the country to raise awareness on the high rate of TB cases amongst health care workers.  Members affiliated to the Union will be displaying solidarity in various hospital activities to raise alarm about the TB crisis and the risks to the health care workforce.  Some of the hospitals where activities will be taking place include Helen Joseph Hospital (Gauteng), Tshepong Hospital (North West), Bongani Regional Hospital (Free State), Frere Hospital (Eastern Cape), Kimberley Hospital (Northern Cape) and Mitchells Plain District Hospital (Western Cape).


Hospersa will also be collecting signatures from its members to petition the National Ministry of Health, demanding a National Health and Safety Policy and a worker-friendly Occupational Health service for the health sector.


It is high time that TB prevention in health care facilities takes priority,” says Hospersa Occupational Health and Safety spokesperson, Fazeela Fayers.  “The training of staff members in infection prevention and control should be done on a regular basis together with the issuing of certified N95 respiratory protective masks to health care workers,” she added.


“We will also demand that the Health Department provides a voluntary TB screening opportunity for all health care workers as well as access to the best available TB drugs and treatments for those who contract TB.  Health care workers need to recover as quickly as possible in order to continue serving the public safely,” says Fayers. “We will also urge the Department of Health to consider the widespread distribution of surgical masks for use by patients in hospital waiting areas, where the spread of TB is at higher risk, as sick patients spend many hours waiting in confined and often poorly ventilated areas,” she added.


“Hospersa feels it is also opportune to start a national debate as to whether Government should distribute surgical masks as widely as it does condoms, for voluntary use and protection of the public in spaces like trains, taxi’s, schools or wherever people feel compromised,” said Fayers.


According to latest statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO), South Africa has the second-highest Tuberculosis 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 South Africa accounted for 21% of the reported incidents yet fears that the situation could be worse as many cases do not get reported.


“South African health care workers are at the cold face of both HIV and TB epidemics, and therefore exposed to both HIV and TB disease daily and effectively increasing the risk of contracting both HIV and TB as an occupational disease,” 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” she added.


MDR-TB is the type of Tuberculosis that does not respond to two of the most powerful anti-TB drugs, Isoniazid and Rifampicin.  Being an airborne disease, Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria that spread from person to person through microscopic droplets when released into the air.  Health care workers are left the most vulnerable when a person with untreated tuberculosis coughs, speaks, sneezes, spits and laughs, occurrences that happen often in waiting queues at the country’s hospitals and clinics.


In the petition, Hospersa demands a comprehensive plan that addresses the OHS contraventions affecting its members where TB is concerned.  “We demand that the Department of Health takes an active role in addressing the increasing cases amongst health care workers by setting aside a dedicated budget for routine screening, testing and for the management of TB in health care workers,” said Fayers.  “We also demand government to adhere to the OHS and Infection Control policies as well as call for the inclusion of extra pulmonary TB in the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Disease Act,” Fayers added.


“It is unacceptable for the Department of Health to continue as if it is business as usual while lives are being lost where they could have been prevented,” said Fayers.  “The country is losing the battle on TB and has a ticking time bomb on its hands needing urgent attention from government,” Fayers concluded.




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


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