Homeless people encouraged to take tuberculosis tests

In recent months there has been a worrying increase in the number of tuberculosis patients in the Czech Republic. A disease which many people thought had been eradicated in this part of the world is back, spread mainly by illegal immigrants from the East who avoid the usual series of medical check ups which all legal asylum seekers must undertake. Daniela Lazarova has the story.

A recent case of an illegal immigrant, who wandered all over the country, eating at pubs and sleeping at railway stations with a bad case of tuberculosis has evoked great public concern. How many other seriously ill people may be walking around with a highly contagious disease? The fact that tuberculosis has suddenly reappeared among the homeless in Prague, with whom illegal immigrants most frequently mix, indicates that the concern is justified.

The Bulovka Hospital in Prague and the Homeless Shelter Nadeje have now launched a joint project aimed at getting the problem under control.

I asked the head of Nadeje Miroslav Svara to explain what is in the pipeline .

"The homeless are without doubt a high-risk group -among them the incidence of tuberculosis is four times higher than among other groups of the population. In order to motivate homeless people -of whom there are several thousand in Prague - to get tested for tuberculosis the authorities have promised them money-coupons for which they will be able to buy food. Our street workers will seek out these people and persuade them to get tested, to try and explain that it is in their own best interest to find out whether they have contracted the disease or not. If their results are positive, they will naturally be given treatment. Since these people never seek out a doctor themselves - this test is likely to save their life."

This health programme is due to be launched in May and those willing to cooperate will be tested periodically. In the meantime Nadeje does what it can in terms of prevention. Miroslav Svara again:

"We make sure these people are able to maintain certain hygiene standards, they can come here and take a shower whenever they need to. We offer 3 hot meals a day and each person who comes to us gets a vitamin supplement. We work closely with other shelters in order to find room for anyone who needs a bed. Those who make use of what we offer -even sporadically - get a medical check up but there are many who don't and those are the ones whom we need to target now. "

The tuberculosis testing programme is being financed jointly by the Health Ministry and the Prague Town Hall.