The South African government on Monday announced a range of interventions in the health sector in a bid to protect the population, particularly newborn babies, from a listeriosis epidemic which has killed 61 so far.
“When we view statistics of affected people, we note that of all the vulnerable groups, neonates [newborn babies within first 28 days of life] are the worst affected if we analyse it by age group from birth to 93 years. In this case, neonates alone account for close to 40 percent of the cases,” Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi addressed journalists in Pretoria.
“Of note is that of all the neonates that get affected, 96 percent had early onset disease, that is, from birth to six days after birth. It is clear that these neonates are simply vulnerable due to their pregnant mothers. They are infected by their mothers at birth.”
Motsoaledi instructed health workers across South Africa to “pay special attention to all pregnant women”. He said the health workers should have “a high index of suspicion” when dealing with pregnant women or neonates.
“Be alert all the time, be it at antenatal clinic, labour ward, and neonatal units,” he said.
There are 1. 2 million pregnant women in South Africa annually. In 2014, the health department launched the MomConnect programme where every pregnant woman is registered through their mobile phone to receive regular updates before and after giving birth.
“I have now given instruction that all of them [pregnant women] be sent instruction about Listeria. We are calling on more pregnant women to register on MomConnect, be they in private or public [health facilities] because during times like this we are able to reach them quicker through messages,” he said.
Apart from the neonates, other vulnerable groups include pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems – particularly people living with HIV and Aids, diabetes, and other chronic diseases like cancer, kidney and liver diseases.
Earlier, Motsoaledi revealed that more than 700 cases of listeriosis have now been confirmed in South Africa, and 61 people have already succumbed to the disease.
“There are 727 laboratory confirmed cases that occured in the country. This means that since the last press conference of 5 December 2017, a total of 170 extra cases emerged,” said Motsoaledi.
“Of these 170, a total of 51 had already occurred before 5 December 2017, only that we are discovering them now as the search continues, hence they were captured retrospectively. Therefore, there are 119 new cases that occured since our last press conference.”
During the December briefing, Motsoaledi had revealed that 36 patients had died.