When Disease Threatens Your Only Source of Income- The Story of Johnstone

Johnstone Okato is a 24 year old man from Mlolongo, Athi River County. He is a single man and works as a casual laborer to earn a living. He was diagnosed with TB in April 2018. Johnstone took this as a normal disease since he had heard of TB before and the first person that he opened up to was his brother, whom he lives with. Johnstone’s brother was very supportive and encouraging, telling him that he would not die. From his brother’s support,  he gained more confidence and later shared his TB diagnosis with his mother and other family members, who also encouraged him and offered support.

Unfortunately, Johnstone’s disclosure of his TB diagnosis did not go well at his workplace, resulting into stigma and victimization

He was required to pick his medicine at the clinic weekly and this coincided with his work schedule. Eventually, he had to share the health challenges he was facing with his supervisor in order for him to be allowed to take an off day to collect his drugs. His request was however denied by his supervisor. Johnstone’s supervisor disclosed this to more of his other colleagues and gave him a one month unpaid compulsory leave. Some of his colleagues made his situation worse by telling him that he is not supposed to sit with them while a few gave him some encouraging words that helped to keep him moving.

Johnstone was deeply saddened by the turn of events and when he was at the verge of falling into depression, he knew that he needed someone to talk to, otherwise things would get worse. During this period, Keheala support sponsors were constantly in touch with Johnstone, always reminding him that TB is curable and encouraging him to adhere to treatment and adopt a healthy lifestyle. This support gave him hope and trust for Keheala and it was at this point that he decided to speak with Keheala supporters about his predicaments. After confiding with one of the Keheala’s support sponsors, she phoned Johnstone’s supervisor. During the conversation, the support sponsor learned that the supervisor was misinformed about the disease and took time to educate him about the disease, which changed his perspective. A few days later, the supervisor called to tell Keheala that Johnstone had been reinstated to work.

Johnstone says that Keheala has not only helped him retain his job and ability to earn a living, but has also given him support. This makes the battle with TB easier, especially when he receives calls or messages. Keheala encouraged Johnstone and helped him to understand that TB is curable. His mother sometimes sees the reminder messages and is happy that someone is taking care of his son when she is far away.

Johnstone encourages anyone suffering from TB to accept his or her temporary situation, follow the doctor’s advice and not to miss clinic days. “Don’t deny having TB and share this with your family and friends for support”. He added that Keheala should spread out to his rural home in Malaba border where people like his friend are still dying of TB. His late friend was embarrassed about having TB and was in denial. Johnstone believes that had his friend benefited from support and encouragement from Keheala, he might have survived TB.

ALICE MWIKAMBA