TB Patients Act as Agents for Change

Civil society initiatives continue to play an important role in the fight against tuberculosis (TB). Participants of the 41st Union World Conference on Lung Health in Berlin, made an effort to have a door to door campaign awareness for the grim effects of the TB epidemic. The campaign starts today until November 15, 2010.

Lucy Chesire, TB Advocacy Advisor for ACTION (Advocacy to Control TB Internationally) in Kenya, shared details of the TBREACH project, an initiative of the Stop TB Partnership with funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which started off last September.

The goal of the project is to enhance early and full TB case detection among selected high risk groups. The project focuses on reaching slum dwellers and people living with HIV. It also goes to individuals who have limited access to health services or the poor.

The project is in partnership with KAPTLD (Kenya Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases), covers one city and three towns in Kenya. These three towns are Kisumu, Nairobi, Thika and Nakuru. These towns have continued to show increased burden of TB over the years.

“One of the objectives is to enhance TB case finding and care among HIV infected people by engaging current and former TB/HIV patients in peer to peer screening approaches,” Chesire explained.

Two hundred twenty TB community volunteers, all former TB patients, have been recruited, as well as 55 community health workers (CHW) joined the project. Of the 55 CHWs, 22 are persons living with HIV who have been through TB/HIV co-infection in the past. They will engage in door to door campaigns, community mobilization during screening camps, treatment support, referral of suspects and health education. The volunteers carry out case detection work at least three times a week. While the health workers work at least four days a week. All get a monthly stipend.

“This approach enables us to reach those patients who have not been able to come to the health care facilities despite presenting the signs and symptoms related to TB,” Chesire says in an interview with CNS.

According to Chesire the volunteers act as agents of change. The volunteers are already open about their TB and HIV status. They are already recognized by the community and at the health care facilities. They work with volunteers who live in the communities.

“They are able to tell their story. They are able to be treatment supporters. They are able to encourage others living with HIV to go for a TB test. Because we know people living with HIV are 50 times more likely to develop TB,” Chesire explaines.

Projects like these also help fight stigma against the disease. The project is expected to reduce delays in diagnosis, cut down patient costs and encourage people to seek treatment soon.

“At the end of the day, it is really about empowering TB patients,” Chesire says.

Initiatives like this should continually be funded by donors. Chesire applauds the Stop TB Partnership and CIDA for supporting former and current TB patients . They rightfully take their place in TB control. Such initiatives should be scaled up. They are in line with empowering TB patients and communities, a component of the Stop TB Strategy.

Babs Verblackt – CNS