Fight TB in the workplace, minister tells business

Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang urged business leaders on Friday to join the government in the fight against tuberculosis (TB) in the workplace.

“Many workers are vulnerable to TB both in their communities and the workplace. This has serious implications for any business. Most people within the business sector have generally accepted the health and well-being of their workforce is critical to the development and growth of a business,” she said.

The minister was addressing a breakfast meeting at Rosebank in Johannesburg.

The workplace is a good setting for TB management and interventions that benefit both the employer and employee.

Employees can gain awareness about TB and receive support when taking treatment, while employers can save costs through reduced absenteeism and staff turnover. TB transmission within the workforce can also be reduced.

Tshabalala-Msimang told the business leaders present that health and safety at work should include measures against infectious diseases—not just workplace injuries.

“TB control cannot be viewed as a social imperative ... failure to act has serious economic implications. I am glad that industries with relatively high prevalence of TB like the mining sector are making some interventions against TB.”

A TB patient can lose an average of three to four months of work time, which translates to between 20% and 30% of the patient’s annual income lost. About 15 years of income is lost due to premature death.

In its guidelines on TB in the workplace, the World Health Organisation says the macroeconomic impact of TB is not only on a country’s per capita gross domestic product, but also reduced lifespans and caused loss of earnings to society. The WHO estimates that TB leads to a global decline in worker productivity of about $12-billion (about R72-billion) yearly.

The South African government had responded to the TB problem facing the continent by drawing up the National TB Crisis Management Plan.

“We recorded about 300 000 new cases of TB last year and most of the affected are people in the most productive age groups. The main challenge is to encourage patients to complete their treatment. TB is curable even in the presence of HIV and Aids,” Tshabalala-Msimang said.

The lack of awareness about TB results in patients seeking treatment late. By the time a diagnosis is made, a number of people have been exposed to infection, she said.—Sapa

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