Opposition hits out at ‘lack of information’ on Listeria outbreak

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: iStock/frithyboy
Picture: iStock/frithyboy

Related tags: South africa

The main opposition party in South Africa has hit out at the ‘lack of information’ on the Listeria outbreak which has sickened 915 and killed 172 people.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) accused Aaron Motsoaledi,​ minister of health, of ‘playing politics’ while the country is in the grips of the world’s largest Listeriosis outbreak.

Some meetings were postponed due to Jacob Zuma resigning, Cyril Ramaphosa becoming president and delivering his State of the Nation Address (SONA).

The Portfolio Committee on Health met Wednesday with the National Department of Health and the Western Cape Provincial Department of Health.

The Committee said the department must work with local government to educate communities about the disease so people take precautionary measures.

DA: Motsoaledi must address the nation

The DA said it has repeatedly asked for an update but has been met with silence.

“Time is running out and Minister Motsoaledi must immediately address the nation and present the public with crucial information regarding Listeriosis,” ​said the party.

“To date we still do not know the source of the deadly Listeria bacteria, nor do we have any clarity on the department’s plans to combat the outbreak and inform citizens on preventative measures. This outbreak has far-reaching consequences across various sectors, including the food and agriculture sectors.

“It is simply not good enough to sit by and wait for this crisis to solve itself. We need strong and decisive leadership from the minister. Services to our people cannot come to a halt purely because of political uncertainty in certain parties.”

Minister Motsoaledi said South Africa has been dealing with listeriosis for more than 40 years and about 60 to 80 cases were detected and treated annually.

Lindelwa Dunjwa, chairperson for the committee, said: “We must ensure that in our constituencies we empower people as Members of Parliament through radio programmes about the disease. It is not only the responsibility of government to educate communities."

More than 900 sick and 170 dead

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said there had been 915 laboratory-confirmed cases since January 2017.

The agency added the source of the outbreak is not known.

South Africa has made listeriosis a notifiable disease meaning every diagnosed patient must be reported.

Most cases are from Gauteng Province (59%, 541/915) followed by Western Cape (112) and KwaZulu-Natal (66) provinces.

Where age was recorded (886), it range from birth to 92 years (median 20) and 41% (361/886) are neonates aged ≤28 days. Females account for 56% (499/886) of cases where gender is known.

Final outcome data is available for 67% (617/915) of cases of which 28% (172/617) died.

Genetic testing on Listeria from patients suggests sequence type 6 (ST6) is responsible for most infections.

The World Health Organization (WHO) previously said a ‘strong lead’ was being investigated between a food item and human cases with lab results pending.

However, it also said there was inadequate funding for lab testing given the large number of samples and insufficient capacity for data analysis to identify links between cases.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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