Cape Town - When Uvistra Naidoo of Durban studied medicine, he had one mission: to save people’s lives.
But his dedication put his own health at risk. After working as an intern at King Edward Hospital and later at Groote Schuur Hospital in 2008, he discovered he had developed pre-extreme drug-resistant TB.
”It’s referred to as pre-XDR because it is resistant to all TB drugs except one. I lost 15kg within six weeks.
“I guess, like most of my colleagues, I hadn’t been worried that this would happen to me. I was very healthy and active, training for the Two Oceans and Comrades marathons. Even when I had chest pains, I thought I’d been training too hard.”
It was only when he visited his family in Durban that Naidoo’s father, who is also a doctor, tested him for TB.
For the next three years, he had to take 23 tablets a day and for nine months, he needed daily intravenous treatment. The disease incapacitated him and treatment nearly killed him.
But he is not the only one. Professor Keertan Dheda, head of the pulmonology division at UCT, told the South African TB conference in Drurban two to three percent of South African health workers contracted TB every year, many in hospitals and clinics.
Dheda warned that if health workers were not protected against this occupational infection, many potential workers could be discouraged from the profession or from specialising in TB treatment.
“Given our shortage of doctors in the public sector, the state should be worried about the impact this disease will have on people who are meant to care for patients. It is a reality that TB infection could act as a disincentive for many of these health workers.”
While health workers also needed to take responsibility and use protective masks, Dheda warned that the onus was on the Department of Health to provide equipment and have strict triage policies for patients whose TB status was unknown.
Sibusiso Hlatjwako, spokesman for Aeras, a TB research organisation, also raised concerns about the rate of TB infection among doctors and nurses, saying they were twice as prone to be infected by the disease as the public.
Aeras had started a global campaign known as TB Unmasked to get frontline health workers to start a dialogue about their struggles with TB in an effort to educate, empower and advocate for action and solutions such as the development of TB vaccines.
“These are workers who unite their communities and are often the last line of defence for the sick around the world. Those dedicated to caring for others deserve to be protected from the devastation of TB.” - Cape Argus