A severe shortage of hospital beds has resulted in highly infectious multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) patients being sent home, City Press reported.
Patients have had to wait for up to four months to get a bed in a state hospital.
The health department's own guidelines for treatment stipulate that MDR-TB patients should be in hospital for at least the first six months of treatment. This is to prevent them from infecting others with the disease. They are also supposed to receive five different drugs every day, administered by a nurse.
A health risk to the public
"It would be ideal to hospitalise all MDR-TB patients, but it is impossible because the demand (for beds) is too high and treatment duration is too long," the department's chief director for TB control and management, Dr David Mametja, told the paper.
"It is better to manage patients outside of hospitals than to make them wait for a bed when we do not know when it would be available," he said.
He acknowledged the policy posed a health risk to the public.
About 7400 people were diagnosed with MDR-TB in South Africa in 2010, the weekly reported. 45% of these patients had no history of TB treatment.
(Sapa, March 2012)
Fears of totally drug resistant TB