UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Current Guidelines for Protecting Health Workers from Occupational Tuberculosis Are Necessary, but Not Sufficient: Towards a Comprehensive Occupational Health Approach Ehrlich, Rodney; Spiegel, Jerry M.; Adu, Prince A.; Yassi, Annalee


Health workers globally are at elevated occupational risk of tuberculosis infection and disease. While a raft of guidelines have been published over the past 25 years on infection prevention and control (IPC) in healthcare, studies in different settings continue to show inadequate implementation and persistence of risk. The aim of this commentary is to argue, based on the literature and our own research, that a comprehensive occupational health approach is an essential complement to IPC guidelines. Such an approach includes a health system framework focusing on upstream or mediating components, such as a statutory regulation, leadership, an information system, and staff trained in protective disciplines. Within the classical prevention framework, primary prevention needs to be complemented by occupational health services (secondary prevention) and worker’s compensation (tertiary prevention). A worker-centric approach recognises the ethical implications of screening health workers, as well as the stigma perceived by those diagnosed with tuberculosis. It also provides for the voiced experience of health workers and their participation in decision-making. We argue that such a comprehensive approach will contribute to both the prevention of occupational tuberculosis and to the ability of a health system to withstand other crises of infectious hazards to its workforce.

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