WC Health Dept responds to Diphtheria outbreak

General practitioner, Dr John Sonnenberg, voiced his concern about the lack of communication to the Strand community following an outbreak of Diphtheria, which claimed the life of a 10-year-old.

Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection of the mucous membrane in the throat and nose.

He feels the information was not given to communities timeously.

My major concern is the lack of communication in the midst of this very serious, extremely dangerous illness.

Dr John Sonnenberg, General Practitioner

I was astonished when I read in The Cape Times four days ago that the spokesman to the minister of health services had said she knew about the Diptheria outbreak weeks ago, and when asked why the department had kept quiet about the outbreak, her spokesman said, we did not send out a statement.

Dr John Sonnenberg, General Practitioner

Western Cape Health Department head Dr Beth Engelbrecht says she welcomes the criticism by Dr Sonnenberg, but says their main priority was to immediately respond to the news of the outbreak.

Our main priority is to immediately respond. So when we heard late in the afternoon on 3 August we got the lab confirmation of the case in Helderberg Hospital, I was amazed at the rapidity of our staff.

Dr Beth Engelbrecht, Head of Department at WC Department of Health

She says since the news came out, they have vaccinated more than 600 children and everybody in the area was informed.

She insists everyone in the local area was informed.

Engelbrecht also says the department had to find a balance between being alarmist or providing proper information.

Sonnenberg says he has no complaint about how the department handled the clinical side of the outbreak and says the hospital's procedure was admirable. But he maintains one of the biggest schools in the Somerset West area was not informed.

I am not trying to be dramatic but I have seen with my own eyes many children die of Diphtheria.

Dr John Sonnenberg, General Practitioner

Without being alarmist, he believes the department should have taken the public into its confidence.

Engelbrecht says they drafted a holding statement explaining everything,

Everything was ready and we made the press statement on the 14th when we realised everything was under control.

Dr Beth Engelbrecht, Head of Department at WC Department of Health

The first outbreak was on 3 August and the press statement was released on 14 August and Dr Sonnenberg argues this might have been done sooner.

To hear the rest of the interview, listen below:

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