Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says a multi-sector response team has been put in place to tackle the effects of the Listeriosis outbreak that has gripped the country.
Motsoaledi cautioned against pointing the blame on his department as food production and consumption fell in the hands of various departments such as agriculture, trade and industry, municipalities and health.
The panic surrounding the outbreak of Listeriosis increased on Sunday as the health department announced that the source of the Listeriosis has been traced to Enterprise Foods, a company owned by Tiger Brands. Another source of the outbreak has been traced to Rainbow Chicken food products.
A total of 180 people died from the disease.
Motsoaledi said the companies involved were to blame for the lapse in health protocol.
“It is the companies that are responsible for the lapse, they were supposed to follow certain food procedures but they did not. At the Enterprise laboratory, 300 samples were taken and 30% of them were taken from all over; from the food inside, from the surfaces, equipment and from everywhere Listeriosis was found,” said Motsoaledi.
He said his department did everything that they could to respond to the outbreak which started last year.
“Our health department is not in a crisis, outbreaks of Listeriosis happen all over. Even now there is an outbreak in Australia. Outbreaks happen now and again.”
“We did everything that could be done within the law and even the world health organisation says so. It is clear there was negligence in the functioning of those companies. Wait and see the outcomes… there are many departments involved; trade and industry, agriculture, municipality and health and national consumer council,” he said.
“We have a multi-sector response team working on this, which will look into legislation and consult with these companies.”
He cautioned against the panic that the entire health department was at risk of collapse due to this outbreak. Mostoaledi said Listeriosis has been in the country for 40 years, but had never caused alarm as it was under control.
“Listeriosis has been in our country for 40 years. Doctors have been seeing up to 40 to 80 patients a year and that was never a crisis as they were treating them. The only difference now is that it became an outbreak. This time around we could not pick it out fast enough,” said Mostoaledi.
One of the reasons the department could not respond fast enough is that Listeriosis was not considered a “notifiable” disease, meaning that as its picked up during tests on patients doctors were not required to notify the department of its presence.
“Listeriosis is not a notifiable disease, because for a disease to be notifiable it has to have met five criteria,” he said.
Some of the criteria include:
1. It must be contagious
2. A rapid spread (for 40 years Listeriosis has never spread so quickly like it have done now).
3. It must do something unusual.
4. There must be a risk of it spreading to outside our boarders.
5. If it restricts travel then it qualifies.
Motsoaledi said now the disease qualifies as a notifiable as it has done two things, it’s done something unusual and has spread rapidly.
Health inspectors that are responsible for ensuring that companies comply with food regulations fall under municipalities and not the health department making it hard for the health department to account for their performance, said Motsoaledi.