Many TB patients suffer alone

2012-03-28 14:40

Cape Town - Tuberculosis patients and caregivers in many poor communities are battling to cope with the burden of the disease, and say they are frustrated about the assistance they receive.

Just across the road from the middle-class area of Strandfontein in Mitchells Plain, near Cape Town, patients with TB and HIV battle to survive, and it's a battle they're losing.

"The majority of the people have died from TB and Aids," community TB case worker Betty Jansen told News24.

Poverty and disease are rife in the small community and the situation mirrors many other forgotten communities where people fall through the social net.

Jansen is the local unpaid community worker and she said that her familiarity helps her to determine which people need help to fight TB.

Government services

"Because I am a DOT [Directly Observed Therapy] worker, I know all the symptoms of TB and Aids. Because I've been working in the community, I know the people and I approach them to ask whether I can accompany them to the clinic," she said.

She travels with patients that need care and ensures that they take their medication and keep appointments.

She currently has 17 patients from the shack-dwelling community, and told News24 that one had passed away just days before.

According to Jansen, patient compliance is minimal and this is complicated by negative attitudes and sigma surrounding the disease.

"Many of them don't go [for treatment] and many people who get the medication from the clinic do not use it. Many of them, when they have died and we clean the house, we find the tablets thrown behind the bed or behind the cupboards.

"Many people do not want others to know they have TB or that they are HIV positive because they say that the DOT [workers] gossip."

Government services are noticeably absent in this community and on a walk through the shack village, open toilets could be seen close to communal water taps.

Drug treatment

The clinic nearest clinic is in Strandfontein, but Jansen said the staff there are not helpful to the community of mainly people from the rural Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces.

"The clinic here is not very valuable to the community because you can sit there the whole day if they don't think you're important."

TB and Aids are intertwined in this community and the drug treatment takes its toll on the patients. Jansen said that she has appealed to the social development department for help.

"The social services say that they can't do anything for the patient in terms of food parcels. Many of the patients' bodies don't allow them to work.

"They [social development] have to look at the person's CD [cluster of differentiation 4] count and if the CD count is very low then they can provide, but so far here, they haven't provided anything for anyone."

She ensures that patients have a meal as often as possible so that they are able to take their medication, but said that death is common.

"And then people die because nobody can survive illness if they're hungry as well."

The government's policy of "Batho Pele" (Putting people first) may highlight the plight of the disadvantaged, but the experience of this community shows that they're a long way down on the priority list of local officials.

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