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Sunday 24 March 2019
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TB: no cause for hysteria

THE TUBERCULOSIS (TB) scare at the Siparia Police Station underlines the complex public health challenges still posed by this 6,000-year-old, curable disease. But while the matter requires serious and comprehensive action, it should not be met with hysteria by police officers.

For sure, aspects of the reported response of the Police Service and the health authorities suggest a better job must be done in terms of coordination. One diagnosis is bad enough. But a second, and after an all-clear had reportedly been issued, raises questions over whether adequate contact-tracing took place. Further, the claim by one officer that no counselling has been provided is shocking.

The first thing people need to fight any illness is information.

That said, we cannot condone calls for action that may be disproportionate to any risks identified by qualified healthcare officials. It is for medical officers of health — and not interested onlookers — to recommend what action is necessary or advisable based on their assessment of the facts.

Further, any proposal for mandatory testing of all officials at the police station must be carefully balanced with the need for confidentiality and the upholding of the rights of everyone to not be subject to gratuitous, invasive action.

Unfortunately, there is still a lingering stigma over this disease, which was once associated with poor, cramped living conditions and is now regarded as a corollary to HIV. True, people who have an impaired immune system are particularly susceptible to TB.

About 30 per cent of people with TB are also HIV positive, according to the Ministry of Health. However, people with a host of other conditions are also susceptible. They include individuals with diabetes, cancer patients, drug addicts and people with chronic poor health.

It must be remembered that TB is not spread by shaking hands or touching, sharing food or drink, using the same plates and cutlery or sharing toilet seats. And not all people who come into contact with the bacteria get sick. The body’s immune system often removes the bacteria with no long-term impact. People who develop “latent TB” will not be able to pass the germ to other people.

This is only the case with people with active TB.

One-third of the world’s population is infected with TB. Despite a cure being available for more than 50 years, it kills almost two million people every year. All these deaths are avoidable. We need better education.

No worker, police officer or otherwise, should be placed in a hazardous work environment.

At the same time, the focus should be on tightening available treatments, surveillance and workplace procedures moving forward, not ignoring the fact that such options for management exist.

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