According to Dalene von Delft, co-founder of TB Proof and TB survivor and activist, there is still too much stigma surrounding the disease, which prevents people from seeking treatment, disclosing their diagnosis and taking the correct steps to prevent spread of the infection.
Healthcare workers are at an increased risk, especially for drug-resistant TB, “so we urgently need to educate them on how to protect both themselves and their patients properly”.
) What is TB? How is it spread?
Tuberculosis is an airborne infection caused by the mycobacterium – hence its full name, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It spreads through droplets in the air when someone coughs or sneezes. It most commonly causes infection in the lungs, but can spread through the blood vessels in the lungs to any part of the body.
) When should someone get tested for TB?
If you have an otherwise unexplained cough for more than two weeks, you can go to your local clinic to get a sputum test. You would be asked to cough up some phlegm in a container for tests. Other symptoms of TB are weight loss, night sweats or fever, tiredness or coughing up blood.
) How is TB treated?
It is treated with a combination of antibiotics. For drug sensitive TB, the usual duration of treatment is six months. TB can become resistant or cause relapse if it is inadequately treated, so completing the course of treatment is essential. Drug-resistant TB is treated for nine to 24 months with stronger antibiotics, including multiple tablets and one drug that gets injected. This injectable drug causes hearing loss in 50% of patients. Therefore, civil society organisations such as TB Proof are pushing for the use of newer drugs such as bedaquiline to replace this drug.
) What are the biggest myths or misconceptions of TB?
People think that TB only affects “vulnerable” people, for example people with immune-suppressive conditions such as HIV, chronic lung diseases or diabetes. The truth is that TB can affect anyone, even if you are young and healthy, because it spreads through the air – so anyone can get it. People think that those with drug-resistant TB must have developed it by not taking their treatment the first time. However, if you breathe in TB droplets spread by a patient with infectious drug-resistant TB, you can be directly infected with drug-resistant TB. That is why it is so crucial that people can get tested for TB. Once a person is on effective treatment they are not infectious anymore, so their families and friends are protected.
) How can others try and stop the spreading of TB?
- If you have a cough or other symptoms of TB get tested and treated. Receiving treatment and being cured is the best way to stop the spread of TB. By being supportive of those with TB, and not stigmatising them, you are making it easier for someone living with the disease to take their treatment seriously and focus on getting better – and therefore also help prevent them from infecting others. How is TB Proof involved in the Helderberg community?
We have three members in the Helderberg community – Sister Pat Bond, a professional nurse who is a multi-drug-resistant (MDR) TB survivor, Dr Dalene von Delft (MDR TB survivor) and Dr Arne von Delft (TB activist and public health registrar at the University of Cape Town). We provide presentations on TB awareness and TB infection prevention and control at hospitals, clinics and medical schools, and take part in local and global TB advocacy events and activities.
) What is the significance of TB Awareness Month?
On 24 March 1882, 136 years ago, Robert Koch first identified the mysterious cause of the “white plague”, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tragically, despite being discovered so long ago, last year the World Health Organisation still reported 10,4 million new cases of TB globally, with an estimated 1,7 million people dying from what is supposed to be a curable disease. It is the leading cause of death from a single infectious agent in the world. In South Africa, TB continues to be the leading cause of mortality, with 8,4% of all natural deaths attributed to TB in 2015.
) What is TB Proof doing to commemorate the TB Awareness Month?
TB Proof runs an “Unmask Stigma” campaign on World TB Day to destigmatise TB and mobilise society to raise awareness of the problem. The Unmask Stigma campaign focuses on creating solidarity with people with TB and those who care for them. We all put on masks for the day and we participate in various public events wearing our masks. Wearing a mask should be celebrated, because it means the wearer is putting safety first, either by protecting themselves or those around them. The ultimate aim is to break down the stigma surrounding TB. Join the Unmask Stigma Challenge. Wear a mask on World TB Day, 24 March, to remind your society: Anybody can get TB and Everybody needs support. Take a photo of yourself wearing a mask and change your profile picture for a day! Tweet your photo @UnmaskStigma or share on Instagram with #UnmaskStigma.