Listeriosis: What went wrong? – Lindy Wilson

DA MP asks what is behind the deadly outbreak of this treatable disease

ANC health system is a death sentence for the poor

8 March 2018

Thank you Chair,

South Africa is renowned for making records, and in the case of Listeriosis, we have recorded the world’s largest breakout of the Listeria bacteria. This is certainly not a record to be proud of.

So where did the stink in the drink water come from, or rather where did the bacteria in the polony start, and who is really responsible?

Listeria Monocytogenes, a bacteria - is found everywhere.

It will be found on the cattle ranches, where beef is processed for meat products, in fact probably most farms where livestock is kept. It can be found in water supplies, soil, vegetation and in animal faeces.

In fact, almost the entire South African population, at some point in their lifetime, has been exposed to Listeria. Listeriosis becomes dangerous when it contaminates food.

Listeriosis is treatable, a quick course of antibiotics and in most instances, patients are good to go.

The question then arises, why are we sitting with a record-breaking outbreak of a disease that has claimed the lives of so many South Africans?

What could have been done to prevent this outbreak, and what was NOT done to avoid it?

What role has the Department of Health played in this outbreak?

It is common knowledge that the Minister has announced that the source has been traced to the Enterprise processing plant in Polokwane, and Rainbow Chicken.

While I am not here to absolve either factory for the role they have played in the loss of lives in South Africa, I question whether they are solely responsible.

Are they the real source of the problem?

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), who must be commended for their outstanding work in assisting with the investigation and role they played in tracking the Listeriosis and its source, are clear as to what needs to be done in the hygiene and monitoring of food handling plants.

In the Department’s Norms and Standards document, practices with regards to monitoring of food processing factories are made quite clear, and I quote”

Environmental Health must implement an integrated food management system utilizing a hazard identification and risk-based approach for all food premises.”

It further states:

A risk categorization process which uses a site-specific risk assessment to determine the risk level, inspection frequency and any other food safety strategies for the safe operation of the food premises.

A risk assessment should be conducted to assess conditions on the premises that may pose a threat to the health by identifying potential health hazards from the handling, preparation and storage practices.

Assessing the likelihood of the hazard posing a risk.

Food risks, estimating the severity of the consequences, if harm could be caused and recommending action plans for the elimination and minimization of hazards.

And risk analysis should be done with specific focus on food handling and preparation methods, hygiene practices and ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS ON THE PREMISES.”

These are just a few of the norms and standards for adherence in the Department of Health’s 147-page recommendations.

The manufacture of fast foods or ready to eat foods in the case of Enterprise is a fast turnover industry, particularly in South Africa, where the price of red meat is beyond the purse of the millions of grant recipients.

The time from process to consumption is very narrow and therefore the risks are much higher. These factories should have been inspected every three months by an environmental health inspector.

But were they? Perhaps the Minister can inform us. I raise this Minister because the responsibility of Environmental Health Inspections was dissolved from a national level to that of Municipalities, the feeding troughs of corruption. This was under your watch.

The World Health Organisation stated that South Africa has only a third of the recommended Environmental Health Inspectors. Why Minister? This has happened on your watch.

180 plus people have lost their lives, and one must question what role your department played and if these deaths could have been prevented. The same question was asked in the Life Esidimeni tragedy.

If quarterly inspections were done, by qualified Environmental Health Inspectors, who are properly resourced with equipment and testing facilities, could Listeriosis have been picked up at the outset?

Where are the reports from these inspections, what do they say, what was tested in the factories, who analyzed the reports?

Or, was a clean bill of health granted in exchange for a few rolls of polony and viennas? Don’t give us half-truths Minister and lay the blame on others.

When last did health inspectors deal with the service providers who supply food to our children in schools?

It is amazing that other countries in the world are having an outbreak at the same time as South Africa.

Are they also importing emulsifiers and “white slime” from the same places as South Africa? Can you tell us, Minister? Are your Health Authorities at Port Control doing their job and are they resourced sufficiently?

I put it to you Minister that you seem to not know.

You have blamed the problems of our failing health system at the door of the provinces and shrugged your shoulders and pleaded innocence in the Life Esidemeni and Mediosis corruption crisis.

As they say – there is none so blind as he who does not see.

You are accountable, you are the Minister. It’s time to take your blinkers off.

You have been quick to advise us of the provinces in which most deaths occurred. What you have not advised us, is in which hospitals and in which areas these deaths occurred.

You see Minister, on Tuesday I did an oversight at the Mafikeng Provincial Hospital.  I walked in well and left feeling sick to my stomach.

The conditions there are ghastly.

The hospital is under-resourced, dirty, mould grows on the walls, people queued for 4 hours in the casualties department and the boilers are not working. New mothers sleep on the floor in the maternity wing, which is equipped for 25 babies a day but attend to between 40 and 50 babies daily.

I am quite confident when I say this, anyone arriving at the Mafikeng Provincial Hospital with listeriosis, particularly children, would likely die. Nothing works and under pressure, I can assure you, Minister, that the likelihood would be a misdiagnosis.

This, Minister is your responsibility.

The Ministry of Health and its hospitals are collapsing.

Listeriosis and Life Esidimeni are tragedies, but the real tragedy is that thousands of people are dying every day because of a failed health system. A health system which for many poor and vulnerable South Africans are a death sentence. You, Minister, are the judge and the jury and you should be ashamed.

I plead with South Africans to change their votes in 2019 and vote for a party with an outstanding Health Policy that will quickly rectify the failure of this Government and who is committed to providing dignified healthcare to our people. Something your department, Minister, obviously does not do.

I thank you.

Issued by Lindy Wilson MP, 8 March 2018