Staff deaths at leading hospital put India’s TB battle in spotlight
MUMBAI – Campaigners and a former official overseeing Asia’s largest tuberculosis hospital in Mumbai say staff deaths there are being under-reported, highlighting India’s growing struggle to contain multi-drug resistant forms of the contagious, airborne disease.
Many of India’s toughest TB cases end up in the metal cots of the state-run Sewri Hospital, where on a recent Reuters visit open wards were lined with emaciated patients, many left alone by families scared by the disease and its stigma.
Medical Superintendent Rajendra Nanavare, Sewri’s top doctor, says an average of six patients a day die at the 1,200-bed hospital.
Nanavare says a dozen hospital workers had also died from TB in the last five years. But others say the real number of staff deaths is higher – although they could not give a precise figure – pointing to a public health crisis at the heart of one of the world’s most densely populated cities.
“A lot of class 4 workers like the sweepers and the cleaners at the hospital leave work after they get the infection,” said Prakash Devdas, president of the local workers’ union.
“We don’t know if they’re alive with the infection or dead. Nobody tracks them. That’s why I said the actual number would be much higher.”
Campaigners blame weak infection controls, poor oversight and infrequent checks on workers in a country where the shame of TB alone drives people to suicide.
“There is so much interaction between the patients and staff. They become more vulnerable… especially if they have weak immunity,” said former TB officer Mini Khetarpal, who supervised the hospital for Mumbai authorities until earlier this year.
Nanavare said 69 employees has been diagnosed with TB since 2011, of whom 12 had died while 28 had been cured.
A lot of staff continue to work at the hospital long after being infected. –Reuters