26 March 2013
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe handed over six state-of-the-art tuberculosis (TB) testing machines at Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town on Monday, World TB Day, as South Africa stepped up its efforts to fight TB in prisons, mines and schools across the country.
The GeneXpert machine reduces the time needed to diagnose the presence of TB from about six weeks to two hours, thereby allowing medical staff to treat patients sooner and to stop the disease from spreading.
“We are prioritising the roll-out of these machines in correctional facilities, mining and other congregate areas with elevated risks of infection,” Motlanthe said, adding that the government believed in returning rehabilitated offenders to society as healthy and responsible community members.
South Africa is facing a big challenge from HIV and TB co-infections. TB is an airborne, opportunistic infection that thrives in the presence of a weakened immune system.
“We have today opted to join the Correctional Services’ communities to entrench the anti-stigma message that HIV and TB do not discriminate, and therefore our responses shouldn’t, either,” Motlanthe said.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who was also present at Monday’s handover, underlined the extent of the stigma associated with TB, citing a recent survey in Khayelitsha in which 2 721 people from 2 037 households visited were screened.
While 650 suspicious cases had been detected, only 300 people had been prepared to give sputum for testing, Motsoaledi noted. Thirteen of them had been found to have TB and had started treatment.
It’s estimated that nine-million people across the world have TB, with 28 percent of this total living in six Southern African Development Community (SADC) member countries.
South Africa has the third highest tuberculosis infection rate in the world. But Motsoaledi was optimistic that South Africa would reach its Millennium Development Goal of halving TB infections by 50 percent in the 1 000 days left before the target date of 2015.
At Pollsmoor Prison, where former President Nelson Mandela spent six of his 27 years in prison, 735 inmates were screened for TB between 1 and 31 March this year. Ten of them 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,” Motsoaledi said, adding that prisoners were also given a booklet educating them about TB, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.