In anticipation of the World TB Day, we think about the 1 million children suffering from TB and challenges they face every day...
It is the holiday season and the atmosphere around tells it all. The sweet, loud and happy voices of my friends playing outside makes me want to jump out and join them. As is the norm in my area, holidays are characterized by good days of playing together, going to visit my grandmother and going for picnics among other interesting activities. Holidays mark a time where we try new things, explore new places, make new friends as we also spend long nights telling stories with our friends and siblings.
However, this time round, my life has taken a totally different turn. At first, I thought it was a normal cough that would disappear in a matter of days, just like in the previous cases. I used to ignore the high fevers, sweats and chills in the hope that it could get better the following day or at least when mom gives me that antipyretic syrup. Not even the fatigue and the persistent cough could dull my mood because mum used to tell me that it would disappear.
However, the situation got worse with time as I continued to get weaker and weaker. The fever was sometimes uncontrollable and my cough was not only severe but very disturbing and uncomfortable. With my worsening situation and significant blood stains in my sputum, my mum got more concerned and it’s then that she decided to seek the services of a healthcare provider. Thanks to the advancement in TB detection and diagnosis in Kenya, I was finally diagnosed with TB and was put on treatment immediately.
Unlike previous infections where the course of treatment could run for about 5-7 days, I was surprised when the doctor told my mom that my course of treatment would run for 6 months uninterrupted, with strict adherence. In addition, my course of treatment would involve several re-appointments, for both progress check-ups and drug refills. As a fun-loving child who loves travelling, the idea of going to and from the hospital did not sound bad. After all, I was lucky that my condition only needed management with orally administered tablets, and I didn’t require any injections. At the healthcare facility, the doctor advised us that TB is a curable condition and there is nothing to worry about, as long as there is good adherence to the treatment.
When we arrived home, my mom and I shared the news with our family friends and relatives, hoping that they would offer me support in my journey of recovery. Unfortunately, a few days later, the reality of what it means to be a TB patient slowly began to set in. Contrary to my expectations, the friends that I disclosed my condition to started avoiding me and the loneliness in my life was palpable. My agemates were advised not to interact with me because that would put them at risk of being infected with the disease. Some of my friends innocently told me that their parents had warned that TB is not curable and that they will have to avoid me forever. In as much as I am determined to conquer this disease, the stigma, ignorance and the negative energy around me is a big set back.
As a child infected with TB, I would like the perceptions about the disease in our society to change. Taking the drugs everyday is not easy, in addition to some associated side effects. The least that the society can do is show TB patients love as well as give physical and emotional support. I would urge everybody to be our advocate and speak on our behalf to help change the image of TB in our society. Stigma and ignorance only make the situation worse.
When you have any unexplained symptoms such as persistent coughs, fever, fatigue and weight loss, seek the services of a healthcare provider. Don’t wait! With correct diagnosis and treatment, TB is curable.