Losing the battle against preventable diseases

2009-11-03 08:21

WHILE South Africa is slowly winning the battle against a massive

measles ­outbreak, indications are that the country is losing the war against

tuberculosis (TB).

This is according to scientists at the National Institute for

Communicable Diseases (NICD).

At the moment, however, it is measles that is grabbing the health

department’s attention. The outbreak, mostly centred in Gauteng, quickly spread

in schools and even invaded Johannesburg prison, forcing a 10-day quarantine

there this past week.

Health department spokesperson Fidel Hadebe says more than 1 000

cases of measles have been reported.

The last major outbreak of the disease happened in 2003 to 2005,

when 4 207 cases were reported.

Professor Adrian Puren, deputy director of the National Institute

for Communicable Diseases, says while the outbreak is confined mainly to

Gauteng, there are concerns that it could spread to other provinces.

The most appropriate action to take against the disease is to

vaccinate as many people as possible. But government’s effective vaccination

campaign is being hampered by parents who are afraid that the vaccine could make

their children vulnerable to autism.

Puren is adamant this concern is not substantiated by scientific


Tuberculosis, another preventable disease, is also on the increase.

Dr Gerrit Coetzee, head of the tuberculosis unit at the NICD, warns that levels

of the disease in the country are reaching record highs.

The reason for this is is the connection between TB and HIV, “they

were made for each other”, he says.

South Africa’s TB cure rate stands at 65%, a figure way below the

World Health Organisation’s recommended rate of 85%.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the highest prevalence of TB,

1 000 in every 100 000 people have TB, while the average for the country is

estimated between 600 and 700 in ­every 100?000 people, says Coetzee.

Tuberculosis levels are rising ­despite the fact that government

­recently developed a R36 million TB crisis-management plan, which ­identified

four districts with high levels of TB and low cure rates.

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