By Mirirai Nsingo
Miss South Africa 2018, Tamaryn Green fought tuberculosis against all odds. Despite being a medical student, she was not immune to the ailment.
TB, which was once considered a poor man’s disease turned its wings towards the 24-year-old medical student from University of Cape Town who was quoted saying fighting TB alone was not easy and the stigma that came with it made it a real battle.
She suffered from occupationally acquired TB in 2015 after which she decided to focus her charitable efforts on the fight against the disease during her reign as Miss SA 2018.
While poor people are more susceptible to TB (especially those living in squalid conditions and lack adequate nutrition), the World Health Organisation (WHO) ranks health care workers like Tamaryn as high risk communities vulnerable to TB. Other risk communities include people living in mining areas, prisons, people living with HIV, diabetics, refugees and cross-border populations.
Tamaryn’s focus is on breaking the stigma associated with the scourge which she will run together with SA’s National Department of Health as well as the WHO.
Her focus is on letting the world know that TB does not discriminate, anyone can get it — it is curable, it is a global problem and it is mainly spread by breathing in airborne bacteria from people with active infectious TB.
Adherence to medication is the solution to fighting TB and Tamaryn did just that against all odds and now she is fighting the stigma that hinders people from coming out and seeking timely treatment.
Back home, musician Progess Chipfumo was diagnosed with TB in 2012 and six years on after diagnosis and successful treatment, he vows to fight stigma associated with the disease through music.
The 41-year-old better known for his musical prowess and guitar wizardry despite being famous was not spared from the scourge.
The stigma that came with the disease did not make it any easier for him and his family but he still fought it and now is willing to work with organisations fighting TB.
His weapon was also none other than adherence to medication.
Adherence to medication above all is key to successful TB treatment which remains the leading killer disease and a huge public health threat in both SA and Zimbabwe.
The reports that the country is experiencing TB drug shortages is worrying when the WHO ranks Zimbabwe among the few countries that contribute between 80-85 percent of the global TB-HIV drug-resistant cases.
In 2015, the prevalence of TB in Zimbabwe was 292 cases per 100 000 populations.
While the country has been doing massive TB screening campaigns it is difficult to tell a patient to adhere on the other hand when they are stock outs. Zimbabwe’s TB case detection currently stands at 70 percent,
In a recent statement, the Ministry of Health and Child Care noted that the country was experiencing “an inadequate availability of fixed dose combination (FDC) medicines for the intensive phase treatment of tuberculosis (first two months)” and was working flat out to rectify the situation.
While the ministry is working flat out to rectify the situation, some patients who are on intensive phase have not had medication for a week, which could trigger drug resistant TB and continued spread of the disease.
A doctor who preferred not to be named said: “It is seriously bad for a TB patient to miss medication and this causes the bacteria to multiply and become infectious. It makes people resistant, we can even have bigger problems such as drug resistant TB which is more expensive to treat and involves aggressive medication.
Health activist, Itai Rusike has urged the ministry to urgently address the issue before the situation escalates:
“The stock outs undermine treatment compliance. Recent surveys indicate serious shortfall in TB drugs most pronounced at clinic level. The goal should be to ensure 95 percent availability of vital and essential drugs at clinic and district hospital level.”
Zimbabwe has over the years made remarkable progress in the fight against TB and the stock outs could reverse these gains.
Bulk of TB funding in Zimbabwe comes from donor partners, with global fund providing the largest chunk while trends show that donor support has been dwindling the world over.
This leaves the country with a mammoth task to exploit local resources to fund TB programmes for sustainability.
As role models like Tamaryn continue to fight the stigma at global level and Progress also playing his part amid milestone achievements that have been made, the looming funding challenge means that Zimbabwe and other developing countries need to be proactive in harnessing local resources, if they are to achieve ending the TB goal by 2030.