Poor TB infection control measures still a problem in public clinics

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Zodidi Mhlana

JOHANNESBURG- As the world is set to commemorate World Tuberculosis (TB) day this coming weekend, a new survey has identified very poor TB infection control measures in nearly 150 clinics across the country.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) survey which was conducted in 207 clinics found that 145 health facilities were in a poor state when it comes to TB infection control measures. According to the survey, nearly 60% of clinics failed to screen people for TB symptoms and over 55% facilities did not provide tissues to those coughing. 

Sibongile Tshabalala, TAC National Chairperson said that many clinics were still overcrowded and unable to screen people for TB. 

“Our clinics should be places we feel safe, where we know we can get decent healthcare services. They certainly should not be places we can get TB. The reality is that many clinics aren’t even doing the basics to prevent us getting TB as we wait to see a nurse. They are overcrowded. People are not screened for TB. Often staff don’t even offer a tissue to someone coughing. TB can be spread through the air when people with active TB disease cough or sneeze. However, various infection control measures can be taken to reduce the risk of TB transmission,” she said.

Figures show that TB remains the leading cause of death in South Africa, with a number of people being diagnosed with multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and extreme drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) on the rise. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said that there were 19 000 cases in South Africa in 2016 up from 7 350 in 2007.

TAC said that if the government was serious about reducing the spread of the disease, a full audit of all public building including correctional facilities should be carried out.

 “While we stress that this is by no means a scientific survey and the results are not generalisable to the rest of the public healthcare system, it does suggest that infection control is a significant problem in many public sector health facilities. As a result, we demand that government carries out a full audit of all public buildings in South Africa, including schools, clinics, hospitals, correctional facilities and home affairs facilities, to assess whether sufficient TB infection control measures are in place. If the government is serious about tackling TB, then infection control must be made a priority this year. We do not want to be raising the same issues this time next year – our 2019 audit must see a total turnaround of this situation,” Tshabalala added. 

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