Hospitals are facing a crisis due to the shortage of the vital Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, which protects new-born babies from severe types of diseases, including tuberculosis (TB).
According to a Sunday Tribune report, the crisis has been ongoing since late last year and this has led to new-born babies being discharged from public hospitals without receiving the important vaccine as hospitals ran out of it. Parents who recently gave birth in various hospitals around the province said their babies received the vaccine several weeks after birth, while others haven’t received it.
Democratic Alliance (DA) health spokesperson in KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Imran Keeka says this is putting lives at risk. The report says it has been established through a snap survey that the problem is widespread in the province. The KZN Health Department has also admitted it is concerned about the “countrywide shortage”. A leaked document signed by, Dr T Pillay, the deputy director-general for health regulations at the national Health Department shows the official addressing concerns around the late publication of tenders which, in turn, affected the supply of medicines to hospitals and clinics. The letter was addressed to the Treasury.
Pillay expressed concern that the patients’ inability to access their medicine on time would place additional strain on the health system as patients would require further health interventions.
A KwaDabeka parent, who feared being named and ostracised by nurses at her local healthcare centre, said she recently had to take her new-born baby to a private hospital in Pinetown to get the vaccine. She had to pay R150. “I feared that my child would end up contracting diseases,” said the 27-year-old woman. “I checked other public hospitals. The vaccine was not available. My baby received BCG vaccine at three weeks (at a private hospital) which is something he should have got as soon as he was born,” she said.
She said there were many parents who had given birth at public hospitals who were at the private hospital for vaccinations. The shortage of the vaccine appears to be a national problem and it comes on the back of Statistics South Africa releasing a report last year which showed TB remained the leading cause of death for citizens.
The report said a survey found that the KwaMashu Community Healthcare Centre and Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Phoenix had not received the vaccine for four months, while six other institutions had limited stock which arrived recently but would soon be depleted. One nurse at the King Edward Hospital in Durban said they were adopting a “first come, first served” approach.
KZN Health spokesperson Ncumisa Mafunda said the department was aware of the shortage and was concerned about it. “There is a challenge with the availability of BCG. While the department is mindful of – and concerned about – the seriousness of this situation, it is nevertheless constrained by the fact that this shortage is countrywide, and it is due to a supply constraint linked to production and quality assurance,” she said.
Mafunda said the provincial depot was awaiting stock from suppliers. She said parents were being encouraged to keep contact with their health facilities to check on the availability of stock.
Meanwhile, Dr Anchen Laubscher, the Netcare Group medical director, said they were importing vaccines from a reliable supply. “The BCG vaccine is therefore available within Netcare facilities. Mothers who bring their babies to a Netcare Stork’s Nest clinic for the vaccination after their baby was delivered at a facility other than a Netcare hospital are charged a fee for the administration of the vaccine but there is no charge for the BCG vaccine itself as it is usually supplied by the government.
“The administration fee varies from hospital to hospital,” said Laubscher is quoted in the report as saying.