By Evans Ongwae
TB is preventable, treatable and curable, and patients with the disease should not be stigmatised. That is the takeaway message from an interview with Dr Jacqueline Kisia, the Head of Care and Treatment Section, Division of National Tuberculosis Leprosy and Lung Disease, in Kenya.
In her responses to a wide range of questions from Nation, Dr Kisia says everyone can play a role in tackling this infectious disease.
“We need each other to win the war against TB,” she says.
She advises people to visit the nearest health facility immediately, whenever one suspects they may have TB, so that they may be screened, tested and treated. “TB screening, testing and treatment is free in all public and most of the faith-based facilities across the country,” she says.
TB is spread by germs in air droplets. Dr Kisia explains that when a person sick with TB coughs, sneezes, talks or laughs without covering the mouth, germs are released into the air. Other people who are nearby could breathe in those germs and get sick with TB too. This is the most common way TB is spread. Nonetheless, the disease is very treatable and there is no need for stigma, as Dr Kisia says.
Verita Anyango, who fell sick with TB in 2018, got cured, thanks to her focus on treatment. However, her experience was not without the very stigma Dr Kisia wants people to stop.
Anyango says she was stigmatised by some relatives and friends, who feared she would infect them with the disease. Thankfully, her mother and a nurse at Kayole II Sub-County Health Centre in Nairobi encouraged her to focus on treatment by faithfully taking her medicine.
Ms Anyango’s mother, who was by then living with her, proved supportive, taking care of her during the difficult period.
“My mum took me to the health centre, where I was counselled and given tablets,” says Ms Anyango. Her mother would give her the drugs as per the instructions given at the health centre.
“I took the medicine faithfully. In the end, the doctors informed me I was fully cured,” Ms Anyango narrates, adding that she is fine now.
“I accepted my condition and blocked my ears to what people were saying. I accepted to take all my medicine and that made a big difference in my life,” says Ms Anyango.
What has she learnt from her experience?
“TB is treatable,” she stresses. “I urge anyone who has symptoms such as the ones I had, to get diagnosed for the disease and to take their medicine religiously, because the medicine is free,” adds Ms Anyango, who is now a TB treatment champion.
Since her recovery, she has been urging other TB patients to complete their treatment. “The health centre calls me to talk with patients and encourage them to take the TB medicine to the end,” she says.
Dr Kisia says patients should ensure they complete their TB treatment to prevent the development of drug resistance and other complications. “If not treated, TB kills,” she warns.
The treatment for TB requires a combination of different drugs. These drugs are taken once a day for six to 12 months.
The doctor points out that there are various tests for diagnosing TB, including new methods for faster and more accurate results.
She advises: “The sooner you take a step to get screened for TB, the sooner you can be treated and get on with your life and feel better.
Life is yours. Although you live for others, you also must live for yourself.”
Dr Kisia adds that there is nothing shameful about having TB. It is a biological/medical disease. Anyone can get it.
Stigma or discrimination makes an individual feel different, less human, neglected and unwanted. It also makes one feel ignored and gives rise to feelings of loneliness, dejection, self-pity and helplessness. It is worse if self-imposed.
Dr Kisia advises people to maintain a good diet. This will help them keep a strong immune system, which will fight off diseases like TB. “So, eat a balanced diet, which includes meat, liver, fish, milk, green-grams or beans (for body building proteins and minerals), vegetables and fruits (for vitamins), bread, ugali, chapati and potatoes (carbohydrates), and drink plenty of water,” says the doctor.
“Smoking increases your chances of developing TB, so you should avoid it,” she adds, and continues: “Excessive alcohol consumption lowers your immune system, which could make you more vulnerable to TB. Avoid excessive drinking.”