One of these was a 19-year-old KwaMashu mother left King Edward VIII hospital without her newborn being vaccinated with BCG.
Since being discharged from hospital, she has been in and out of hospitals and clinics, trying to find the vaccine for her days-old baby.
The mother gave birth to a baby boy on January 7 at King Edward and also had her appendix removed at the hospital. She was told that she was a high-risk patient, so she was transferred to King Edward.
“Some mothers who gave birth at the same time had their babies vaccinated with BCG, while others, like myself, went without,” she said.
She said that she took her baby to KwaMashu Community Health Centre when he was four days old because he had jaundice, thinking she could also get the baby vaccinated with BCG. Unfortunately, she was told to sit among sickly patients, which she felt put her baby at risk because he had not been vaccinated.
“After hours of waiting, we decided to go to a clinic in Newlands where we were told that even though they do have the vaccine, they will not open a new vaccine for my baby because it would be a waste,” she explained.
She said that this forced her return to King Edward, where nurses rudely told her to call the MEC for Health and complain to him.
When the Daily News met her, she had decided to take her baby to a private hospital for the vaccine.
She said she was anxious and afraid that her baby would get TB. She was relieved that her baby had now been vaccinated.
Dr Nazir Ismail, head of the Centre for Tuberculosis at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said that South Africa had one of the highest number of TB cases relative to the size of its population, with between 250 000 and 350000 new cases occurring every year.
“The BCG vaccine is the only TB vaccine currently available, given currently at birth, although it is only partially effective in preventing pulmonary TB,” said Ismail.
“It it is still very effective at preventing severe forms of TB (70-80%). This includes disseminated TB and meningeal TB, both of which are fatal. Thus there are important benefits in being vaccinated at birth with BCG to protect people from developing severe forms of TB,” he continued.
Ismail also said that the vaccine could cause adverse effects, but in most instances these were minor and not harmful. He said the benefits far outweighed the risks and BCG was still recommended.
Dr Imran Keeka, DA KZN spokesperson on health, said the vaccine was one of the most important parts of the expanded programme on vaccination, which nevertheless had gaps that could potentially result in increased numbers of patients with TB.
Keeka criticised the way Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo ran the department, and that there had been a similar shortage a few years ago.
“The department always argues that they will ensure that patients will be traced and vaccinated or there will be a catch-up programme. Past experience has shown that this is a fallacy. This puts at grave risk the children who do not receive it soon,” said Keeka.
He said that facilities that had stock should not hoard it.
“This is reckless and the CEO and pharmacy managers must be held to account if they do so. Stock must be shared. This is not the time to risk patients’ lives by deliberately putting them in harm’s way,” Keeka said.
He said that the KZN Health Department should look for stock in the private sector and also look at getting stock from other provinces that had enough to share.
The Daily News called numerous public and private hospitals and clinics and found that some of them had run out of BCG months ago, while others were running low on stock because they were sharing with other facilities.
Ncumisa Mafunda, KZN Department of Health spokesperson, said the department was aware of the BCG shortage and that it was a countrywide shortage.
“There is a challenge with the availability of BCG. While the department is mindful of the seriousness of this situation, it is nevertheless constrained by the fact that this shortage is countrywide,” said Mafunda.
She said that the reason for the shortage was because there was a supply constraint linked to production and quality assurance. Moreover, the Medicines Control Council had not approved the release of the batches.
Mafunda said the provincial depot had distributed all the stock it had and was awaiting stock from the suppliers.