South African healthcare workers face greater risk of TB, HIV



By Abdallah el-Kurebe in Chicago, USA
Dr. Annalee Yassi, a professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health and health researcher with the University of British Columbia has carried out a large-scale survey of South African healthcare workers, revealing major gaps in the workplace protection against tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis.
Yassi presented the findings today at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in a paper titled: “Promoting Health Equity by Addressing the Needs of International Health Workers “, where he said issues such as confidentiality, stigma, technological capacity and staff training needed to be addressed while improving hospital resources and protocols.
The 2012 baseline preliminary survey of more than 1,000 healthcare workers in three hospitals, he stated show that more than 68 per cent of patient care staff had never been screened for TB; nearly 20 per cent were not vaccinated against hepatitis; and 55 per cent did not wear respiratory protection when needed.
“Despite South Africa’s high TB and HIV rates – 18 per cent of its adult population is HIV-positive – and risk of hepatitis transmission, recapping of used needles before disposal and washing and reusing of gloves were common, with more than 20 per cent surveyed reporting needle stick injury or unprotected exposure to bodily fluids,” he said.
Yassi, who is helping South Africa to implement occupational health guidelines developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), says healthcare workers in developing countries face greater health challenges while serving significantly more patients.
“In addition to massive workloads, healthcare workers in developing countries are more likely to get sick from the workplace,” says Yassi says, who also noted that healthcare workers in South Africa are at three times the risk of contracting TB than other South Africans, and more than seven times more likely to be hospitalized for drug-resistant TB. A 2013 WHO estimate showed South Africans were almost 300 times more likely to contract TB than Americans.
“Considerable progress is being made, including better standard operating procedures and screening. But there’s much more we can do to ensure a healthy workplace for the international health care workforce,” says Yassi.

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