TB survivors call for sustained care, empowerment amid pandemic
By The Frontliner Today
Tuberculosis (TB) has become one of the deadliest airborne diseases in the Philippines, with the country’s occurrence rate being the highest in Asia.
Among the majority of patients, receiving adequate TB therapy is the best way to combat the disease, but it is not the only concern of some survivors. Fighting tuberculosis needs collaboration, action, and empowerment, as per a release by nonprofit organization FHI 360 and the Department of Health.
Louie Teng, once an aspiring architect, talked about the greatest turning point of her life when she learned she had extrapulmonary tuberculosis (tuberculosis meningitis) in 2007. Meningeal tuberculosis, a rare type of tuberculosis, infected her brain and caused her vision loss during therapy.
Teng’s battle with tuberculosis was one of her most painful experiences, and losing her vision made it much more difficult. This caused her to suffer from depression, anxiety, and a fear of discrimination as a result of what she thought was an “old illness.”
Her doctor at the time explained that her recovery from TB was considered “a miracle” because a person with MTB then could have faced death.
After undergoing months of treatment and rehabilitation, she used the opportunity to use her experiences as a sign of hope for those who are battling TB. Teng now combats TB as the President of TBPeople Philippines Organization Inc. She also serves as a survivor advocate for the DOH’s, #TBFreePH campaign. She has been using her voice to help other people in far-flung areas to get educated and assisted by people who were successful with their TB treatment.
“We want to create media engagements by making noise the right way to inform the public that there are a lot of TB cases in the Philippines including ones with existing disabilities,” Teng said. She also called for the establishment of community-based forums about the disease to make sure government officials can directly communicate with patients.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, she believes that lockdowns led to TB patients’ rising emotional distress due to a lack of access to adequate treatment from health care centers and hospitals.
“We want to assist others who are yet to be met. We are able to get further requests and direct them to TB facilities and health care services because everyone is linked by social media,” she added.
Other TB survivors also called for efforts in raising TB consciousness to resolve the growing issues of the pandemic.
Mark Agana said Filipinos need to be screened, checked, and treated for tuberculosis. He also said myths of men having no flaws should be debunked.
Agana was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis (PTB) in 2014, despite his fit and active lifestyle. He admitted that he failed to take precautions for his TB medication and would self-medicate, resulting in TB reactivation in 2016.
He stressed that anyone can get infected by TB, regardless of their lifestyle. During his incubation time, he heard a variety of stories from other patients. He began to blame himself for not seeking care earlier, as having TB once was frustrating enough.
Meanwhile, Malaya Relacion expressed what she thinks is one of the main problems for TB in the Philippines. For her, the gaps in smoother and more effective detection processes make the situation worse.
In 2012, Relacion volunteered with a non-governmental organization and traveled to many remote locations. She was diagnosed with PTB after a string of unexplained fevers and chronic coughing, and has since survived.
She urged active and former tuberculosis patients to speak out and inspire themselves through their stories in the face of the new pandemic.
“Like many people living with tuberculosis, I had to overcome my doubts. I was afraid to tell someone about my story,” she said. “Fear, on the other hand, equates to powerlessness. As a result, I had to take control of my own destiny. I’m here today to educate people on what it means to be TB-free”
While raising TB awareness is a difficult task, it can be accomplished with additional support from TB and non-TB Filipinos who support the DOH’s National TB Control Program and overall #TBFreePH initiative.
Development agencies such as the US Agency for International Development are also supporting the effort (USAID), World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (Global Fund).
Direct messaging from these TB services, according to #TBFreePH survivor advocates, would help address the existing problem of Filipino TB patients not seeking adequate care. -Janelle Boquida, Dana Eunise Cruz
This story is based on a release by FHI 360 and the Department of Health, through Team Asia.
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