The Department of Health says it is working around the clock to contain a severe tuberculosis strain that has been discovered in KwaZulu-Natal.
Departmental spokesperson Charity Bhengu said on Monday this TB strain resisted all first level drugs (ordinary treatment given to TB patients) and two of the five major classes of the second-level drugs used to treat patients with multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR TB).
About 52 patients have reportedly died in Tugela Ferry, after contracting the extremely second line drug resistance TB (XDR TB).
"The department is however working round-the-clock to address this problem," Ms Bhengu said.
"We are extremely concerned about multi-drug resistance in TB and particularly the extremely second line drug resistance and we are considering measures to prevent and manage it."
To this end, the department has put in place a team consisting of health workers, health inspectors and health environmentalists to do case finding by visiting affected communities and clinics to detect the existence of this strain.
Ms Bhengu told BuaNews that the team was also responsible for house-to-house visits, including schools and farms.
"Once we find that these people do have TB, be it MDR or XDR, we track them down and those who have contacts with them to also check if they have not been affected and then put them back on the treatment.
This team works in conjunction with scientist like Professor Willem Sturm from the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in Durban, to address the problem.
In addition, the Department is looking at the feasibility of getting two more drugs that are currently not in the country, to be used as alternatives for patients with XDR TB.
Government spends R400 for treating every patient with ordinary TB.
When the patients default treatment and develop a multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB, the cost of treatment dramatically increases to R24 000, which includes hospitalisation and more expensive drugs.
Ms Bhengu said the solution to the problem was to prevent the development of resistant strains by ensuring that people were treated properly right from the beginning and that they completed their treatment.
The department developed and launched a TB Crisis Management Plan in March this year, to reverse the tide of the crisis in the country.
The Plan has identified four districts in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Gauteng as having high rates of MDR TB.
The XDR strain is said to be more prevalent in regions with high rates of MDR TB.
In this regard, the department has committed an extra R36 million to address the crisis that is caused by poor adherence to TB treatment in these provinces, among others things.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) among others, will meet on Thursday, with international scientists and experts to help address the XDR TB strain.