More than 40 000 prisoners have been screened for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) this year as government attempts to tackle TB in correctional facilities.
8 percent of prisoners test positive
About eight percent of all MDR-TB tests conducted among prisoners tested positive for the form of TB, which is resistant to both of the most commonly used anti-TB drugs, according to information presented to the National Task Team for TB and HIV Services in Correctional Centres.
New data represents a 20-fold increase in the number of inmates tested for MDR-TB since 2011, when the country began introducing rapid TB testing via GeneXpert machines.
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These machines are capable of returning TB test results in just hours in contrast to convention testing that can take days.
At least seven of these machines are now located in prisons, according to data released last year by the National Health Laboratory Services at the SA TB Conference in Durban.
GeneXpert introduced on World TB day
This follows the introduction of the machines into Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison by the Department of Health two years ago today on World TB Day.
In 2011, former Pollsmoor inmate Dudley Lee, took the Department of Correctional Services to court, arguing that the conditions he was forced to live in for almost five years as an awaiting-trial prisoner caused him to develop active TB. Although Lee eventually died, his court case was successful and was credited with revealing the extent of the TB epidemic in the country’s prisons.
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However, recent task team information also shows continued challenges in addressing TB among prisoners with a lack of access to chest X-rays needed to help diagnose TB of the lungs.
Nationally, the GeneXpert roll out has led to an 85 percent increase in the number of MDR-TB cases diagnosed, according to Clinical Advisor for TB for the non-profit Right to Care Dr Francesca Conradie.
TB on the increase
“We are seeing an increase from 5 400 to 6 700 (cases diagnosed a year) to over 10 000 in three years,” said Conradie, who added that many doctors are able to more confidently diagnose the condition, which requires about two years of treatment.
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Image: Lungs on the silhouette of a man from Shutterstock
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