•It can be cured and treatment is free –Expert
By Evangeline Anumba
At your first meeting with Dosumu Oluwafunke, one thing she would gladly tell you is that she is a survivor of tuberculosis. As if begging the question, she would stress that, “many people think that tuberculosis cannot be cured, but that is far from the truth; it will take time, but it is worth the time.”
Ever since she survived the disease, Dosumu, a mother, wife and graduate of University of Ilorin, has taken upon herself, the self-assigned task of creating awareness about tuberculosis, as she reveals in this interview.
“I am a TB survivor. I survived tuberculosis in 2015. On February 28, 2015, I started coughing. Initially, I thought it was a minor cough and was treating it until it became serious after two weeks of minor treatment. So, I had to visit my hospital for check-up and I was told to run some tests, including salivary test, blood test, HIV test and chest xray. When the results came, I was told it is tuberculosis, the disease of the lungs.
Trauma of a patient
“At first, I was afraid and I asked myself, how could these be? How did I contract this disease? Tons of thoughts ran through me but no answer. Later, I summoned the courage to go through every bit of the process, determined that I will definitely come out of it. I was placed on routine drugs, which I had to take every day for six months.
During the process, I lost weight down to 42kg, due to loss of appetite, night sweat, fever and chest pain. I was isolated from my immediate environment, family and child for some months, to enable me face my health challenge squarely and prevent the disease from spreading.
Fighting a stubborn disease
I undertook some serious nutritional meals to help the drugs work adequately and to get my feet back. During these times, I could not walk, eat well or bathe myself. All I could do was read, eat, take my drugs, go for my check-ups and pray. I was motivated during this time to write books and I had the vision to help others from being stigmatised because tuberculosis is curable and preventable.
Speaking on the trauma she went through, Dosumu said she had to be isolated from her family, to ensued that she did not spread the disease to them, adding that she was psychologically down and pained, but the thought of her family helped her go through the stipulated six-12 months of treatment.
“I felt the psychological pain not seeing my daughter, husband and family; but there was nothing I could do to help the situation. I knew and believed I would come out of it. I went for my last check-up on the December 4, which came out negative. I was able to publish a book “Exposing the Enemy through Absolute Restoration”, while undergoing treatment.
I heard of so many people that died of the disease from the long queues I saw at the hospital during the treatment.”
Victory at last
She stated that self confidence and self motivation enabled her to outsmart the disease and survive at all cost.
Her words:”I would say it is the self motivation, the self confidence and the hope that my life must not end this quick. I had to be smarter than the disease. So, I never missed my routine drugs, check-ups and prayers.”
Dosumu has written books and is on extensive social media campaign for awareness of the disease.
“I have a Facebook page to promote health and fight against tuberculosis today, ‘Fight against TB today’ and also on twitter, @ DosumuFlexxy. I share information about the disease. When you check my Facebook page, you will see all I have put in place in stopping and preventing the spread of the disease. People are not so much aware of the deadly disease, so I needed to join the team, ‘the media’ to give out the information. I am very proud and willing to do that since it will make a difference in people’s life, the community and the world in general.
“I have also done some major donations (volunteering) around my community to create the awareness in fighting against the spread of tuberculosis in Nigeria and the world at large. Even though I lost my job in the process of the illness, I still have hope and standing strong to help save others from death. I never looked at what I would gain from it but how others can be prevented from it, especially our future generations.”
Advice to patients
She advised people suffering from tuberculosis not to give up. “To people having TB, be strong, don’t give up. Force yourself to eat, take your routine drugs, don’t run from your doctors or nurses; they are helping you. Get tested immediately, when you cough for more than two weeks. Then pray. It will work, because it worked for me. The drugs are free, so why the fear? The courage has to develop from within your spirit. As you fight the spiritual warfare of situations, you also fight the physical warfare of it.”
Plans for the future
“In the next five years”, she said with a grin, “I will be on top of my game, promoting health, to join the fight against TB because I am a survivor.”
Nigerians make lots of noise about the Boko Haram insurgency, but we have a silent killer, killing more Nigerians. The disease is rarely talked about or revealed by the media, but we have politics and insurgency cramming our television, radio and newspapers.
Tuberculosis is the oldest disease yet, less controlled, and studies show that less than 12.5 per cent of Nigerians have general knowledge about tuberculosis.
Sadly, TB related issues are rarely or never heard on the media and are rarely discussed on media programmes. TB service provision is under funded at all levels of government. TB awareness is generally poor among the general populations, when compared with other diseases such as HIV, Malaria and polio.
Statistics show that Nigeria is currently ranked fourth among the 22 high TB- burden countries in the world. According to National Tuberclosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP) statistics, the prevalence for all forms of TB is 330/100,000 population (330 persons have TB-related disease among every 100,000 Nigerians). The incidence for all forms of TB is 322/100,000 population (322 new persons were estimated to have TB disease among every 100,000 persons in Nigeria in 2014).
Death due to tuberculosis among people not living with HIV is 97/100,000 population (97 people estimated to die due to TB among every 100,000 Nigerians not living with HIV). Death due to TB among people living with HIV is 44/100,000 population (44 persons estimated to have died due to TB among every 100,000 Nigerians living with HIV).
Tuberculosis is the major cause of death among people living with HIV/AIDS. According to records, 91,534 persons were notified and treated for TB in Nigeria in 2014. 16,066 HIV positive individuals developed tuberculosis and 248,000 persons died from TB related diseases in 2014. This was more than the total persons killed by insecurity related causes in the last two years.
TB treatment is free
Speaking at a workshop for capacity building in tuberculosis control organized for media practitioners in Nigeria, by Koninklijke Nederlandse Centrale Vereniging (KNCV), a Royal Dutch tuberculosis foundation in Nigeria, Dr. Gabriel Akang, national coordinator, National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP), Federal Ministry of Health, noted that a number of people do not think tuberculosis is curable.
“Very few people know about TB. People need to know and come out. We have cases where people are infected and some of them just die. Like the case where a pastor believed it was spiritual and the carrier infected the pastor and both of them died. Treatment is free. It is just for one to come out and it will be treated. People should start demanding for their right to be screened and treated. It is curable, treated within a short time. Treatment is free, drugs are free. It needs more publicity than it has now”, he said.
Knowing the disease
Describing tuberculosis, he stressed that the disease could affect any part of the body.
“Tuberculosis is a communicable disease caused by a type of bacterium known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, commonly referred to as TB bacilli. The bacilli usually attack the lungs, causing pulmonary TB (PTB). It can also attack other parts of the body such as the spine, lymph nodes, brain and kidneys, which is known as Extra-pulmonary TB (EPTB).
“The disease is spread in the air, when people sick with pulmonary TB expel the germ, for example by coughing. Overall, a relatively small proportion, five to 15 per cent of the estimated two to three billion people infected with M. tuberculosis will develop TB disease during their lifetime. However, the probability of developing TB is much higher among people infected with HIV and the most common symptom of pulmonary TB is productive cough for two weeks or more, which may be accompanied by other respiratory symptoms. Other respiratory symptoms may include, shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing up blood, loss of appetite, Fever, weight loss, night sweats and tiredness.
“Tuberculosis cases are most frequently found among those coughing for two weeks or more. Patients who visit chemists, religious houses and quacks when they have cough, those (especially children and young adults) living in the same household with someone who has chronic cough, those infected with HIV, those who live in crowded conditions such as overcrowded homes, prisons or camps and dormitories, those treated for TB in the past.
“If not treated, a person with active pulmonary TB disease will infect, on average, between 10 and 20 persons every year”, Dr Akang said.
A deadlier type of tuberculosis
According to him, there is another form of tuberculosis known as Drug-resistant TB. He said: “It is fast spreading. It is a form of TB that does not respond to the first line of TB treatment and, mortality and morbidity is higher in this kind.”
Dr Akang stated that there are over 6,000 health facilities across the 774 local government areas in Nigeria, stressing that though tuberculosis services are free, people are either not aware or well informed about it.
“TB services, diagnosis and treatment are free and patient-centered. There are over 6,000 health facilities (tertiary, secondary, primary, private and faith- based) across the 774 LGAs in Nigeria, providing TB services. Services are also provided in the communities through the engagement of community- based organizations (CBOs), community volunteer (CV), community pharmacist (CP) and patent medicine vendors (PMV).
“TB services include, diagnosis, health education, treatment with drugs, monitoring of patients who are on treatment, recording and reporting of services provided to patients. Any person who complained of coughing for two weeks or more would be tested for TB, asked to produce sputum for test and educated on TB as well as how to prevent others from contracting the disease.
How to get cured
“TB is curable and treatment is free. Treatment is by swallowing tablets daily for six or 12 months (if it is the simple type of TB) as appropriate. Treatment for drug- resistant TB (DR-TB) is for 20 months, with eight months of daily injections. DR-TB can be prevented if a patient takes the treatment for the simple TB as agreed with the care provider. Patients who have both TB and HIV are also provided with other special services (HIV drugs, care and supports) to improve their quality of life. All that is needed is more publicity than it has now.”
Role of media
The Country Representative of KNCV, Dr Mustapha Gidado, said the interest of the media on tuberculosis is below average in Nigeria and even worse, is the fact that there are lots of drugs made free and available, but people are not coming for them and they may expire.
He called for improvement in the fight against tuberculosis as one patient can affect 10 to 15 more people, stressing that only correct information can save people from lack of knowledge about the disease.
He assured that his organization would provide resources needed to help share the message.
“Media have always proved to be the most effective tool in promoting awareness among the masses. They assist in providing the public with the information they need to make intelligent choices as citizens. The media also have an agenda-setting role and can influence the salience of TB as an issue in the public arena.
“Unfortunately, the interest of the media on TB is below average in Nigeria. Why? We want improved collaboration with the National TB programme in the fight against Tuberculosis. One TB patient can affect 10 to 15 more people. Therefore, only providing complete and correct information to people can save them from this disease as lack of knowledge creates myths and misconceptions, which result in stigma against the patient.
“Media can play an important role in educating people on TB and reducing stigma. Keeping in view the significance of involving media in the fight against TB, the ACSM unit of the NTBLCP and its partners are more than willing to provide the media with all the needed support to fight against TB, just as you do against HIV and Malaria, including provision of updated and accurate information on TB”, he said.