TB: The stigma is equally deadly

2012-06-23 15:31

When Rebecca Motlhaoleng was told by her doctors that she was completely cured of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, tears filled her eyes – tears of joy.

Motlhaoleng (23) could not believe she had finally conquered the disease that kept her quarantined in North West’s Tshepong Hospital for more than two years.

It was a disease that almost got her killed by her schoolmates, who feared she would infect them.

It was a disease that saw her separated from her newborn son because doctors feared she would infect him.

Motlhaoleng was in matric when she was diagnosed with multi-drug-resistant TB.

The treatment required her to be hospitalised for months.

Her doctors and school principal agreed she would be brought in to the school on the days she wrote exams.

Pupils and teachers were notified of Motlhaoleng’s illness and her close contacts were tested for the disease.

“On the day we arrived with the ambulance it seemed as if the students were waiting for us. They blocked the gate and called me names with some saying they would kill me for bringing this infectious and deadly disease to their school,” Motlhaoleng said.

“Some accused me of infecting one of the teachers that was discovered to have ordinary TB after the nurses tested close ­contacts at school, while others said I was HIV-positive and should have been left in the hospital to die. The principal had to intervene to disperse the mob.”

Dr Hannetjie Ferreira, who treated Motlhaoleng at Tshepong Hospital, said: “TB stigma is very much alive and it is a huge problem in our communities.”

“Patients are rejected by their families and communities just because they have TB. Some even believe that TB and HIV are the same thing,” Ferreira said.

Motlhaoleng said she had accepted the “stigma” would follow her for a long time.

“People do not understand I have been cured of TB. I wish our communities could be educated about TB prevention, transmission and treatment so people like me can live normal lives once we return to the community.”

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