Combating tuberculosis at Maison des Anges
We were horrified to discover that 8 out of 12 children examined in one dormitory at the Maison des Anges children’s home in Haiti had been diagnosed with highly infectious pulmonary tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis bacteria are passed from person to person in the air. When they cough, the sick person releases microscopic droplets containing tuberculosis bacteria into the air around them. Tuberculosis is a dangerous disease, especially for small children and those with compromised immune systems. Left untreated, its outcome may be fatal.
In third-world countries, tuberculosis is a disease of the poor, claiming two million lives globally every year. (For further information, please visit www.lungenliga.ch or www.bag.ch).
In Switzerland, tuberculosis is under control. The number of new cases per year has settled at about 500. Each of these must be reported to the Federal Office of Public Health. The cantonal medical officer in charge will then decide whether or not those who have come into contact with the person concerned must also be tested. Here, too, anyone who may potentially have contracted tuberculosis must be examined.
The important thing now is to conduct skin and blood tests (and where necessary x-rays) on all children and the staff at the Maison des Anges as quickly as possible. If an infection is found, it will be treated with a specific antibiotic. This treatment lasts between four and nine months. As a general rule, after two weeks of treatment a person will no longer be infectious, but it is still important that they continue taking their medication, even if they feel well again.
It costs USD 50 to test each person.
There is also the additional expense of disinfecting dormitories, instituting stricter hygiene measures, and training staff. We have found that the staff know little about this highly infectious disease, and what they do know may be distorted by traditional beliefs. For example, many think that children tuberculosis cannot infect adults.
The situation is serious:
To ensure that all of the necessary action is taken, our actuary and health officer Victoria Hansson is on her way to Haiti. She will assist the head of the Maison des Anges infirmary in managing this enormous challenge.