South African healthcare workers at greater risk for HIV, TB

South African healthcare workers have major gaps in workplace protection against HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis, according to a survey presented on Friday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia conducted the large-scale survey in 2012, gathering more than 1,000 healthcare workers in three hospitals. The survey found that more than 68 percent of patient care staff members were never screened for TB, close to 20 percent were not vaccinated against hepatitis and 55 percent did not wear respiratory protection when required.

The research also found that healthcare workers in South Africa are three times more likely to contract TB than other South Africans and more than seven times more likely to be hospitalized for drug-resistant TB.

"In addition to massive workloads, healthcare workers in developing countries are more likely to get sick from the workplace," Annalee Yassi, a professor in UBC's School of Population and Public Health, said.

The survey also found that despite South Africa's high HIV rate of 18 percent of the adult population, more than 20 percent surveyed reported needlestick injury or unprotected exposure to bodily fluids.

"Considerable progress is being made, including better standard operating procedures and screening," Yassi said. "But there's much more we can do to ensure a healthy workplace for the international health care workforce."

Yassi said technological capacity, confidentiality, staff training and stigma must be addressed in South Africa while improving hospital protocols and resources.

According to the World Health Organization, South Africans are approximately 300 times more likely to contract TB than Americans.