A large-scale survey of South African healthcare workers has revealed major gaps in workplace protection against tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis.
This is according to a University of BritishColumbia health researcher. Presenting findings today at the 2014 annual meeting of theAmerican Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Dr. Annalee Yassi says issues suchas confidentiality, stigma, technological capacity and staff training need to be addressed whileimproving hospital resources and protocols.
Preliminary results of the 2012 baselinesurvey of more than 1,000 healthcare workers in three hospitals show that more than 68 per centof patient care staff had never been screened for TB; nearly 20 per cent were not vaccinatedagainst hepatitis; and 55 per cent did not wear respiratory protection when needed. DespiteSouth Africa's high TB and HIV rates - 18 per cent of its adult population is HIV-positive - andrisk of hepatitis transmission, recapping of used needles before disposal and washing andreusing of gloves were common, with more than 20 per cent surveyed reporting needlestick injuryor unprotected exposure to bodily fluids.
Yassi, who is helping South Africa implementoccupational health guidelines developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), says healthcareworkers in developing countries face greater health challenges while serving significantly morepatients.
"In addition to massive workloads, healthcare workers in developing countriesare more likely to get sick from the workplace," says Yassi, a professor in UBC's School ofPopulation and Public Health, noting that healthcare workers in South Africa are at three timesthe risk of contracting TB than other South Africans, and more than seven times more likely tobe hospitalized for drug-resistant TB. A 2013 WHO estimate showed South Africans were almost 300times more likely to contract TB than Americans.
"Considerable progress is being made,including better standard operating procedures and screening," says Yassi. "But there's muchmore we can do to ensure a healthy workplace for the international health care workforce."