Saturday December 04, 2021

PFA cancels health cards of HIV-positive workers

By Ali Raza
July 21, 2017

LAHORE: The results of health and disease evaluation tests of chefs and food handlers associated with hospitality and food industry by Punjab Food Authority (PFA) in Lahore have made shocking revelations as 140 of them were tested positive for dangerous communicable diseases, including HIV (AIDS).

Following the reports, the PFA director general directed his staff to immediately forward the information of four people whose HIV tests were positive to the National AIDS Programme. He directed his staff to intensify blood screening of workers, chefs and food handlers across the province to ensure safe and disease-free food to the citizens.

The data collected from PFA revealed that so far PFA has screened blood of 2,200 health workers out of which 140 failed to clear the medical tests. These included four cases of HIV, 50 cases of HCV, 20 cases of HBV, eight cases of TB, 38 cases of typhoid and 20 failures of CBC.

PFA DG Noorul Amin Mengal while talking with The News said that special focus was being laid on blood screening of workers of food industry. He said upgrading PFA blood screening laboratory and collection of blood samples of food workers from their workplace were the major steps taken by PFA to ensure safe and disease-free food across the province.

PFA has also cancelled previously issued all health cards of the people working in food and hospitality industry and started re-screening of their blood after which they will be given a medical fitness certificate, which will be valid for one year only. “All workers associated with food and hospitality industry who are bound to get medical certificates under law should get their blood screened by PFA every year,” said Mengal, adding that PFA would also help those having chronic diseases in their treatment.

A majority of small hotels, restaurants and other food supply businesses in the city have not fulfilled the legal requirement of blood screening of their staff, which is spreading contagious diseases among the public.

According to the PFA law, every food handler is required to obtain and keep in his possession a health certificate from PFA that he is free from communicable disease. But the reality is otherwise as a majority of food handlers, including waiters, cooks, kitchen assistants and delivery people, those working at small hotels, roadside food spots and tandoors are not interested in getting a medical fitness certificate. Even in big hotels, restaurants and other food manufacturing units, the law is not being followed in letter and spirit and only a few certificates were obtained instead of getting blood screening of all workers associated with food manufacturing, packing, serving and delivery.

Sources in PFA revealed that there were over 15,000 places in the provincial capital where food-related business, including dining, packing, manufacturing and sale of thousands of food items is going on. Sources said the roadside stalls and mobile food sellers were incuded in the 15,000 spots.

Sources said that under the law, any person related to food business, including retail shop owners, hotel workers, food manufacturing and packing staffers, should obtain a medical certificate after submitting their medical tests including hepatitis test, complete liver function tests, complete blood culture, skin allergy test, urine test, alcohol test, eyes test, chest X-rays, typhoid test and TB test.

Blood screening of food handlers and other workers, dealing with food items, was declared compulsory some years back and after the first blood screening, the then Food department came to know that a large number of food carriers, including waiters and cooks, were suffering from different contagious diseases like hepatitis B and C, TB and typhoid.

“We have found several fake pathology reports in our record,” said PFA DG, adding this was the reason the PFA established its own medical laboratory. He said a one-window operation was launched at the PFA office in Muslim Town from where the persons related to food business could get their blood screened. He said PFA would take strict action against those playing with the lives of general public by spreading contagious diseases.