Workplace TB programmes save lives and money

World Tuberculosis Day, on 24 March, is the perfect time to re-evaluate workplace TB policies.

South Africa is one of the countries most burdened by tuberculosis (TB), with 450 000 South Africans contracting TB in 2014 alone.

Besides the suffering the disease causes, it also leaves its mark on the workplace: Globally, TB costs around $12 billion annually in lost productivity.

The good news is that workplace TB programmes can go a long way towards lifting the burden. Most TB-sufferers are no longer infectious after just two weeks of treatment, while those untreated can infect up to 15 people a year.

What should a workplace TB programme include?

  • Awareness: Employees should be educated about the symptoms, spread, diagnosis and treatment of TB; and encouraged to seek immediate healthcare if they have symptoms.
  • Policies: Clear management policies should deal with confidentiality, discrimination, and leave for medical treatment.
  • Environmental control: Adequate indoor ventilation and outdoor waiting areas are crucial to prevent the spread of TB.
  • Support: Support services may include free screening and treatment or access to these services through state health systems, the guarantee of an identical salary during recovery, compensation for loss of income, transport to health facilities, and counselling.

Exciting discovery

TB is a hotly-studied subject in South Africa. This year, a team from Wits and the NHLS developed a new diagnostic tool that illuminates living TB bacteria under fluorescent light. It’s a much quicker detection method than the standard smear test, which can take up to 42 days, and can also monitor a patient’s treatment response.

Written by: D. Du Toit


National Institute for Occupational Health (SA), World Economic Forum Global Health Initiative, World Health Organization, University of the Witwatersrand