Knowing TB Signs to Aid Early Detection
Henry, 38 years old, is a Tuberculosis (TB) survivor. He suspects to have contracted the disease from Maula Prisons where he was serving a sentence as he started getting very sick some months after his jail term.
According to him, he started coughing continuously in October 2017. However, he thought the cough was a result of a cold weather as he lives in Mfutso Village, located in the highlands of Dedza District. To ease the cough, he was just buying on the counter drugs and sometimes consulted a witchdoctor. However, the cough persisted.
Fortunately, in January 2018, ActionAid Malawi through Episcopal Conference of Malawi and Dedza Diocese, in collaboration with the district hospital started implementing a TB programme in the area, with funds from the Global Fund. After an inception meeting with the community members, they instituted Thambolagwa Community Sputum Collection Point (CSCP) which is manned by TB Volunteers. These volunteers were trained on how they can identify and report TB cases. They were also provided with enablers.
During one of the village gatherings, Henry heard about TB disease from a TB volunteer. He approached the volunteer and explained how he was feeling, for instance, that he was losing weight, could not walk for more than a kilometre without resting and was sweating a lot when sleeping at night. The volunteer collected his sputum, delivered it to Dedza District Hospital and results came out positive. Henry was put on treatment immediately, on 1st June 2018.
Henry adhered to TB drugs with the help of the CSCP volunteers and some family members. He finished his treatment on 1st December 2018. “It was not easy to finish the drugs religiously. But the volunteers and my wife continuously encouraged me to finish them so that I could be cured completely,” he said.
As a preventive measure, other members of Henry’s household, close neighbours and other contacts were advised to test for TB. Henry’s 2-year-old child tested positive. Dedza District Hospital put the child on TB drugs. Henry and wife, with the help of the volunteers again ensured the child finished the treatment.
Both Henry and his child are now completely cured from TB. Henry says he is back to doing piece works which provide food for his family. “I am grateful to the volunteers for helping in saving our lives. I now advise my peers to go for TB testing when they cough for more than two weeks because I do not want them to be diagnosed with TB when they are critically ill as I was,” he said.
The Chairperson of Thambolagwa CSCP, Melesi Mangumba, says they accepted to work as TB Volunteers because their work helps in saving the lives of their own relatives, which has an impact on the development of their community. “Only health people can positively contribute to the economic development of the family and community. If we prevent ourselves from the disease, we will not waste out time and money from nursing the sick,” she added.
From 2018 to December 2019, Thambolagwa CSCP submitted sputum for 54 presumptive and 3 of these were diagnosed with TB. Melesi acknowledged the good coordination between the volunteers, health workers and the community leaders within their area which makes their work easier despite the transport challenges which they face.
Group Village Thambolagwa says she did not hastate to call for a meeting to select TB volunteers when she was approached to have the project implemented in her area. “I ensure I give the volunteers space to share TB information during community gatherings including funerals. I also encourage them to continue with their work when I see them backsliding,” she said.
The District TB Officer (DTO) for Dedza District Hospital, Sosten Mtalika, acknowledged the coming in of the TB Volunteers who have helped in finding other TB cases which would have been missed if they were not involved. “People living far from health centres are now able to have their sputum tested through these volunteers. The volunteers also help in ensuring drug adherence among TB patients and share TB information in the communities. This is why we visit them every three months to ensure they are sharing the right information,” he explained.
According to the Joint TB/HIV Global Fund Programme TB Coordinator, Kondwani Mshali, ActionAid Malawi, has facilitated training of 14,000 volunteers from 1400 CSCPs across the country in passive case finding since 2017. It has also established 180 hotspot villages in eight TB high risk districts where it has trained 360 volunteers to be conducting symptomatic house to house TB screening. ActionAid is currently implementing a 3-year (2018-2020) TB Programme with a total budget of US$2,128,335.