Govt takes TB battle to prisons, mines

Written by Dennis Cruywagen
Government is stepping up efforts to fight tuberculosis (TB) in prisons and mines.

At Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town, all new inmates are to be tested for TB, while all mineworkers will also be screened over the next 12 months.

State of the art technology, known as the GeneXpert, will be used to test new inmates.

The GeneXpert machine reduces the time needed to diagnose the presence of TB from about six weeks to two hours, allowing medical staff to treat patients sooner, stop the disease from spreading and improve the effectiveness of government’s TB Control Programme and National Strategic Plan.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe handed over six of these machines to Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele at the prison recently.

“We are prioritising the roll-out of these machines in correctional facilities, mining and other congregate areas with elevated risks of infection,” the Deputy President explained.

At Pollsmoor Prison, 735 inmates were screened for TB in March this year. Ten were diagnosed with TB, while 165 who were suspected of having the disease underwent more tests. Twenty-one of this group also tested positive for TB.

“Everyone who has TB can possibly infect 20 others in one year. They’ve saved at least 400 others from getting TB,” Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.

Inmates who tested positive were required to supply the Department of Health with their addresses for follow-up visits to family members.

South Africa has the third-highest TB infection rate in the world. But Minister Motsoaledi was optimistic that the country would reach its Millennium Development Goal of reducing TB infections by 50 per cent in the days left before the target date 2015.

In 2011, South Africa unveiled three new strategies to fight the pandemic in mines, among children and in prisons. Originally, it was thought that the highest prevalence of TB occurred in the mines. However, incidence of the disease in overcrowded prisons is thought to be higher than that in mines.