TB survivors speak out

Photo credit: Aliwassa - CNS
Gugulethu Nyazema, Zimbabwe 
(First published in Daily News, Zimbabwe on 24th March 2013): HARARE - Leonard*(not his real name), only had an appetite for alcohol and cigarettes. As he wasted away, he continued going to the bar, with his sagging pants threatening to expose his rear. A man in his late 30s, Leonard called binge drinking his career. He continued to drink even after being diagnosed with Tuberculosis (TB) in 2005. “Drinking is my career and I love my alcohol but I had to quit my career, in order to regain my health,” he said.

Staying with his mother and young brother in Hatfield, a suburb in Harare, he told journalists how he did not adhere to treatment and would often take it with alcohol. “I didn’t want to eat anything and I found solace in alcohol,” he said. Sitting in a lounge choking with a strong tobacco smell and adorned with portraits of his family all over, the frail looking Leonard spoke humorously  about the stigma he experienced when members of the community and friends found out he had TB.

“Mumwe shamwari yangu akauya kuno achida kutobvisa mari yechema (One of my friends came prepared for my funeral and wanted to give my family money for funeral expenses), thinking that I was already on my death bed,” he chuckled.

“Funny thing is that I actually attended this guy’s funeral not too long ago, akatungamira (he died first),” he added. Leonard spoke of his heartache at seeing his elderly mother and brother wearing masks during the home-based care fearing contracting the infectious disease. And sometimes, he would have to spend most of his time outside in the garden.

Ashok Sankpal, a medical doctor with Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) described treatment as more painful than the disease. However, the disease itself is lethal. Leonard is not the only survivor of TB as the world marks World TB Day.

The day provides the opportunity to raise awareness about TB-related problems and solutions and to support worldwide TB-control efforts. Taruva Muvhini, 39, of Epworth  told journalists of how TB almost took him to the grave.

He thought he had out-smarted TB, when at first he was declared cured. He stopped taking treatment when he was declared cured. He felt larger than life, only to be told a month later that his TB had become resistant to the medication.

This forced him to undergo almost three years of extreme pain under treatment, taking close to 20 tablets a day. He had to be injected everyday expect for Sundays. He describes how the pain and side effects of treatment was unbearable.

“Unorwadzirwa zvekuti unofunga kuti ivhu rakukudana (you go through so much pain that you would feel as if you are about to die),” he said. However, despite all that pain, on Valentine’s Day, Muvhuni won his battle with TB and was declared cured of the disease. Meanwhile MSF and their health providers call for urgent and concerted action to curb TB.

The organisation has a project in Epworth that is receiving an unprecedented number of people with drug resistant TB. Paul Foreman, MSF head of mission  said drug resistance is found in patients newly diagnosed with TB. It is being transmitted in its own right in communities.

“Left untreated, the infectious disease is lethal, but treatment today puts people through two years of excruciating side effects, including psychosis, deafness and constant nausea, with painful daily infections for up to eight months, barely half are cured,” Foreman said.

He said the epidemic continues to spread and drug resistant TB is becoming increasingly hard to tackle. “The treatment is too long, too toxic and too costly. The drugs alone cost at least $4 000 just to treat one person,” Foreman said. He said TB patients need shorter, safer and more effective treatment to do so. MSF also treated 1 353 patients for TB, including 11 for drug resistant TB.

According to the statistics from the ministry of Health and Child Welfare, the disease is claiming more than 83 000 people annually with two thirds of the sick not treated. Zimbabwe had an infection rate of about 47 000 per year.

Gugulethu Nyazema, Zimbabwe 
Citizen News Service - CNS
(First published in Daily News, Zimbabwe on 24th March 2013)