More than 40,000 prisoners have been screened for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) this year as the government attempts to tackle TB in correctional facilities.
Around 8% 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.
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. These machines are capable of returning TB test results in just hours.
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.
Nationally, the GeneXpert roll out has led to an 85% 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.
‘We are seeing an increase from 5400 to 6700 (cases diagnosed a year) to over 10,000 in three years,’ said Conradie.