07/05/2018 06:20 SAST | Updated 07/05/2018 06:20 SAST

Tiger Brands Seeks Access To Listeriosis Patients' Medical Records

But the department of health says it cannot hand over patients' private information.

A couple leaves Tiger Brands factory shop in Germiston, Johannesburg, South Africa, March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
A couple leaves Tiger Brands factory shop in Germiston, Johannesburg, South Africa, March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The department of health has reportedly blocked Tiger Brands from accessing the medical records of hundreds of listeriosis patients, Times Select reported, which the company says it needs to defend itself on charges that it is responsible for the listeriosis outbreak.

At least 1024 people have contracted listeriosis so far, and at least 199 have died. Most of those who died were under 28-days-old. The source of the outbreak was found to be an Enterprises Foods factory in March. Enterprise is owned by Tiger Brands.

Times Select reported that Tiger Brands wants the health information of every listeriosis patient, including what other diseases they had and autopsy information. Tiger Brands reportedly said it would not "shun" its responsibilities and was "committed to doing the right thing" but would need the information to ensure the claims against it were legitimate.

But there are reportedly fears that the company will try to fight off the claims, as many of those who died had weakened immune systems, were old or were very young.

The health department is reportedly resisting handing over the information.

Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi reportedly told Times Select: "Ordinarily it is not allowed by law. People won't go to hospital if they know their records will be given to a third party. We will have to check with lawyers if we are obliged to give them the data."

According to News24, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported in April that 412 of the confirmed listeriosis cases were found in babies younger than 28 days. And 37 more cases have been reported since food products were recalled from the Enterprise factory in March.

According to TimesLive, of almost 600 Listeria positive samples taken by the NICD, just 13% contained the outbreak strain. All of those who linked to Enterprise products.

Meanwhile, South African food products are reportedly still banned in Rwanda because the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries is dragging its feet on paperwork, according to a Business Insider report. South African products were banned after the outbreak in December. Even fresh produce is banned in Rwanda, despite it being public knowledge months ago that fresh produce was not affected.

South African high commissioner in Kigali reportedly said, "The DAFF in South Africa must present information to the Rwandan authorities stating that it has nothing to do with fresh produce, except ready-to-eat meat, and that process has been resolved," Twala said. "South Africa has not done that... It is ruining business on our side."