NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 24 – For many, Tuberculosis commonly referred to as TB is an unknown disease. But Joyce Mueni, a mother of four knows only too well how it is to have TB.
She shared her story with Capital News.
“I went to hospital at the International Medical Corps (Kibera DO clinic) when I was in bad shape in March last year. I was coughing blood. I was referred for a sputum test which confirmed that I had TB,” she narrates.
Ms Mueni who had just lost her husband to HIV/AIDS was put on medication for six months which she had to take without fail.
She also had to ensure that none of her four children caught TB which she says was a difficult task because she lives in a two roomed shanty in Kibera slums.
“I had to do it for my children especially now that their father was gone. I didn’t want them orphaned so I made sure I took all the drugs as prescribed,” she says.
According to medics, if one takes drugs as prescribed, they cannot infect others after three weeks of medication.
“You know there are many people here (Kibera)who fear to go for testing, they prefer to take alcohol to forget and they die of something curable,” said Ms Mueni adding that most of those who sought medication did not complete their dosage.
“So the disease recurs, causing complication.”
However, TB is not limited to HIV patients. Government statistics indicate that 50 percent of TB patients don’t have HIV.
Speaking in Kibera on Tuesday during the official commemoration of World TB Day, Public Health Minister Beth Mugo emphasised on the need for Kenyans to take their medicine as prescribed if diagnosed with the disease.
She said failure to complete dosage was the major cause for Multi Drug Resistant TB (MDR-TB) which was more expensive and hard to cure.
This statement was echoed by World Health Organisation (WHO) Country Representative Dr David Okello.
“You must complete your dose and there is no one time you will be told that there is shortage of drugs in hospitals, it’s very dangerous if you fail to finish the medication,” Mrs Mugo emphasised.
“We should work on avoiding defaulters, people who start treatment and when they feel a bit better they stop treatment. This is why we get complications of TB,” added Dr Okello.
Mrs Mugo noted that the most productive age group of 15-44 years was the majority of those infected with TB. She cautioned that everyone was at risk of contracting the disease since it is spread through the air when a person with TB of the lungs coughs or sneezes.
Speaking separately, Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) Chief Executive Officer Dr Jotham Micheni said early diagnosis was important to stop the spread especially when you have had contact with a TB patient.
“We have a cumulated figure of approximately 6,500 cases at KNH. About four years ago we were diagnosing about 4,800. If you keep information to yourself when you are unwell the likelihood is that it will not only kill you but also your family,” he said.
Dr Micheni noted that an isolation facility at KNH which would be ready in July for MDR- TB patients would only cater for 15 of them at a time. This is despite having close to 500 MDR-TB cases reported in the country.
“We need similar facilities in provincial hospitals to avoid overstretch because here we will only consider the most vulnerable cases,” he said.
Kenya is ranked position 13 out of the 22 high burden countries that contribute 80 percent of TB cases in the world despite having met WHO standards of 70 percent case detection rate and 85 percent treatment success rate in those started on treatment.
The Public Health Minister however noted that more resources were required to control TB in HIV positive patients.
“At the moment there is a gap of Sh1.6 billion that needs to be urgently addressed to ensure that all patients on Anti retroviral treatment are screened for TB and effectively put on prevention programme,” She said.
World TB day is a global event that is marked on every 24 March to call for action, mobilise political support and social commitment in TB control and prevention.
This year’s theme in Kenya is “I am stopping TB: Together we can”.