Scabies, tuberculosis and cholera: GGC detects infectious diseases in Brussels

A new campaign aims to persuade Brussels doctors to report infectious diseases to the Brussels government. “There is already more awareness, but we have a feeling that we are still missing a lot of reports.”

In order to better detect infectious diseases and eliminate them in the bud, the Gulf Cooperation Council calls on doctors to report these diseases more quickly.
Since the Sixth State Reform, the GGC has been working on disease prevention and detection.

Scabies, tuberculosis, whooping cough, cholera: If you encounter these terms only in Russian blockbuster novels, it’s partly because of Adraee Toami (31), a medical health inspector for the Joint Community Committee (GGC). With a team of twelve doctors, nurses and administrative staff, she tries to nip hotspots of infectious diseases in the bud. They do this, just as with Covid, by tracing and contacting everyone the patient has been in contact with – in 2023 there were already 3,500 contacts. Vaccination, isolation, or antibiotics are the most common prescriptions to prevent further spread. “I can even ask the mayor to impose measures such as isolation, if necessary,” Tohme says.

© Saskia Vanderstijl

| Andre Tohme, Health Inspector: “Some patients do not undergo testing, even if the doctor asks them to, for example because they are afraid of needles. So some patients go to the doctor, but not to the laboratory. We must avoid that people are not reported about her.”

But of course there must first be a report of such an infection. This can be done by general practitioners or doctors from the CLB or its French-speaking counterpart CPMS, but laboratories or hospitals can also report such an infectious disease to the doctor-health inspector, which is mandatory. “We only notice that we receive more reports from laboratories than from doctors,” Tohme says. “This can be a problem. Some patients do not get tested, even if the doctor asks them to, for example because they are afraid of needles. So some of it reaches the doctor, but not the laboratory. We must avoid under-reporting these people.” “Doctors often say that they do not have time to submit a report because they have to fill out many fields online. Hence this campaign for doctors in which we emphasize that even an email is enough.”

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Tuberculosis, scabies, whooping cough and diphtheria constitute the top four most common infectious diseases that require mandatory reporting almost every year. To be clear, these are low numbers: in 2021 there were 592 reports, in 2022 there were 955, and in 2023 there were actually 981 – for all diseases together. So on the upside. “But there is also more awareness and I think more reporting is being done. So we cannot simply say that there are more diseases now than before.

1868 Andre Tammy opposed GGC Hygiene Inspector 2

© Saskia Vanderstijl

| With a team of twelve doctors, nurses and administrative staff, Andre Tammy tries to nip infectious disease outbreaks in the bud.

However, every now and then there is a “close call”. This was the case this year at the Ariane transit center in Loulouis-Saint-Lambert, where Ukrainians and asylum seekers are received. There were nine cases of measles in April and May. “It’s a highly contagious virus,” Tohme says. “One person can infect twelve to eighteen others.” The vast majority of Belgians have been vaccinated against measles, but asylum seekers are not always vaccinated. “We sent a text message to all the people with whom the first patient had been in contact, in the waiting room of the immigration office, asking them to go to the medical point for refugees (to Pacheco, editor). But we also went from house to house, in Ariane or in any Somewhere else, if they have already moved in the meantime.”

“Some asylum seekers initially did not want to be vaccinated because of all the hype surrounding coronavirus vaccines, or because they believed they had already been vaccinated against measles, but were unable to prove it. Fortunately, I was able to convince them, and it helps that I also speak Arabic and am a doctor. But this campaign was successful: only nine cases out of six or seven hundred people.”

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It is not a matter of poor hygiene

The squat on Paleizenstraat is another well-known example of a place where cases of scabies and even diphtheria have arisen, but there too the situation was well managed. These examples may give the impression that asylum seekers or securities holders in particular, in sometimes harsh living conditions, are vulnerable to infectious diseases. “Although the vaccination rate in the country of origin for some diseases is suboptimal, these diseases remain major exceptions in those groups,” says Tohme. “It is a misconception that scabies, for example, is caused by poor hygiene. It can really happen to anyone.

Megan Vasquez

"Creator. Coffee buff. Internet lover. Organizer. Pop culture geek. Tv fan. Proud foodaholic."

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