Lax management of TBEwha Womans University Medical Center in southwestern Seoul had a tuberculosis scare in mid-July after a nurse in charge of the newborn intensive care quarter was diagnosed with the infectious disease, subjecting hundreds of babies and employees to TB testing. A similar incident occurred when a nurse in the pediatrics ward of Samsung Medical Center in southern Seoul later that month and a newborn intensive care nurse at Korea University Ansan Hospital in Gyeonggi Province earlier this month were diagnosed with TB.
Infections can spread widely and be fatal to fragile infants and elderly patients in hospitals. TB infection cases among hospital staff have been on the rise, reaching 367 last year, up from 294 in 2014 and 214 in 2013.
Despite its high medical care and living standards, South Korea remains vulnerable to TB, a disease typically known to occur in lower socioeconomic environments. South Korea has ranked first in incidence, prevalence, and death rate of TB among states in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development since 1996. More than 30,000 patients are diagnosed with the disease every year. National endeavors to contain and prevent the disease have been lacking for two decades.
The society must be first of all be alert. The government revised the health law to have the communities of medical centers, schools and organizations vulnerable to infectious diseases tested for latent TB. The law, however, was of little use as a state subsidy for the compulsory test was excluded from this year’s budget as well as supplementary budget. The government vowed to bring down the incidence ratio to 12 per 100,000 by 2025 from 86 in 2014 with the law, but with no follow-up actions that goal looks far-fetched.
Testing for TB as well as for carriers of the bacteria is crucial for staff in the sector that cares for patients. The government should have testing covered by national health insurance to make it mandatory within the year. Staff at infant and elderly care centers also should be included in compulsory testing. The action is necessary to make Korea a safer and healthier society.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug.10, Page 30