Durban – The health department woes in KwaZulu-Natal appear to be worsening after the DA claimed to have revealed negligence relating to more than 100 tuberculosis patients. The party claims that negligence by the health department has caused 123 TB patients in KZN to go deaf.DA MPL Dr Imraan Keeka said the patients' ototoxicity levels as a result of their TB treatment were not properly monitored causing a complete loss of hearing. Ototoxicity refers to drug or chemical damage to the inner ear resulting in damage to the organs responsible for hearing and balance.Keeka said the situation is the result of a shortage of both medical equipment and staff at Montebello Hospital in Ndwedwe in rural KwaZulu-Natal. He said sources within the hospital say six patients have since died due to the shortage.Keeka said the DA had learned that in November 2015 the hospital's screener, designed to monitor ototoxicity levels, was made obsolete after a laptop with the necessary software was stolen."According to our source, there was no success in getting other hospitals to lend Montebello the necessary equipment. As a result, no hearing tests were conducted until March 2016 when the software was reinstalled on a laptop shared between the audiologist and data capture staff. This means that on certain days when the laptop is in use for date capture, patients are not seen."Keeka said the situation was compounded because there was only one audiologist and limited internet connectivity."The situation at Montebello is entirely unacceptable. That any person should have to suffer having acquired a preventable disability is intolerable."This could have been preventedKeeka said that in most cases, hearing loss due to ototoxicity can be prevented provided all possible measures are followed. "Even in those cases where prevention methods have not been successful, the severity can be minimised."He said that Multi Drug Resistant (MDR) TB patients that are known to be ototoxic must have baseline hearing tests conducted prior to initiation of medication. "This could not be done at Montebello while ongoing monitoring was also not made possible."Keeka said that only nine patients with a disabling hearing loss have been fitted with hearing aids "while the hospital is doing what it can to help the rest". "Staff shortages and the lack of equipment are also resulting in the increase of patients with hearing loss."Medication must be taken diligentlyAccording to department spokesperson Desmond Motha, the conditions of patients could have escalated because they did not take medication diligently. "The two reasons why normal TB escalates to multidrug-resistant tuberculosis are mismanagement of TB treatment (patient not taking medication as advised), and that person transmitting to people [they are] in close contact with."He added, "In the management of MDR TB patients, loss of hearing has been found to be a common side effect of the injectable drugs (aminoglycosides) that are used."Motha said that in the event that any of the health-care facilities that are treating drug-resistant TB patients, including Montebello, have challenges with the management of MDR patients, arrangements are made for the patients to be referred to King Dinuzulu Hospital.