Staff deaths put Zim's TB battle in spotlight

HARARE - A United States government health agency,  Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is moving to stem staff deaths from  tuberculosis (TB) in hospitals which are being under-reported, highlighting Zimbabwe’s growing struggle to contain the contagious, air-borne disease.

Despite hospital workers contracting and some dying from TB,  hospital wards are also lined with emaciated patients, many left alone by families scared by the disease and its stigma.

The staff deaths point to a public health crisis calling for increased collaboration among private and public health organisations to sustain efforts that accelerate progress in preventing the spread of TB among health care workers.

“It is paramount that we implement measures to keep health care workers safe, healthy and productive,” said Shirish Balachandra, branch chief for HIV Services at CDC-Zimbabwe. “We are excited to support integrated surveillance of anti-microbial resistance across the disease spectrum through our partnership with Zimbabwe, working to strengthen the laboratory system.”

Balachandra was addressing delegates gathered in Harare for the National Infection Prevention and Control Conference last Wednesday.

His remarks in the wake of a recent announcement by the United States government that it is committing $130 million towards Zimbabwe’s response to HIV. Part of the funding, drawn from President Donald Trump’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), will be channelled towards disease surveillance and prevention of TB infection programmes.

According to the Infection Control Association in Zimbabwe (Icaz), the conference, attended by representatives of various health organisations, focused on the role of health care workers in TB infection control and anti-microbial resistance.

Phyllis Manungo, Icaz president, said his organisation works to promote, encourage, advocate and advise on infection prevention and control issues for the benefit of the community.

“The objective of the conference is to bring together partners from both the private and public health and related sectors and other stakeholders interested in preventing TB and other infections and fight Antimicrobial resistance so that we can share experiences and learn from each other”.

According to CDC-Zimbabwe, TB is a public health problem in Zimbabwe which causes significant morbidity and mortality. Zimbabwe is one of the eight countries in Africa designated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as being “high burden” for TB, TB/HIV co-infection, and multi-drug resistant TB.

The conference discussed strategies to contain the rise of antimicrobial resistance, which has significant overlap with the issue of infection prevention and control.

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