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World TB Day 2014

UWC celebrates World TB Day

UWC Nursing students mobilised around World TB Day on 24 March 2014 by holding a masking event on campus, distributing masks to the campus community and answering any questions they had about the disease. The international theme “unmask stigma” was intended to create awareness about the plight of those infected with TB.

TB is the biggest killer of HIV-positive patients, both in South Africa – which has a huge amount of TB cases every year – and all around the world. And even without HIV, it's a dangerous disease – and getting more dangerous over time.

It is especially problematic in particular communities, like the Western Cape farming community, where TB is particularly widespread. “TB is going up, not down - despite the fact that it is curable. Somehow we're missing the whole thing, and we need to talk about it. We need to sensitise people about prevention, spread and their treatment regimes.”

Urged on by TB Proof and the Alliance led by Dr Arne Darlene von Delft, the event was initiated by Prof Rene Phetlhu, who was recently elected as the Regional Coordinator (Africa) on the international committee of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honour Society of Nursing. Phetlhu and her colleague, Mrs Magesh Naidoo, and several of the staff and students at UWC's School of Nursing, organised the activities, gathered the relevant materials and helped make the masks.

The initial plan was for the UWC Nursing contingent to join the TB Alliance's TB Day event at Cape Town's Company Gardens. But given the weather, and the desire to reach the campus community (on a school day), UWC's TB Day activities took place on campus instead.

“Students from first year on got involved, as well as staff, and played their role well, and with enthusiasm,” Prof Phetlhu said.

Doctors without Borders research has shown that multi-drug-resistant TB (XDR TB) has been on the increase in South Africa. Patients who don't complete their courses of medication (which are often unpleasant in themselves) help build even more resistant TB strains, putting both themselves and others in danger.

“World TB Day is necessary to generate some hype around the disease, and thus awareness,” said Prof Phetlhu, expressing the hope that TB would be taken seriously and discussed in the same way as has been done with HIV/AIDS. “We've had a lot of success dealing with HIV/AIDS over the last few years,” she noted. “But if we focus on AIDS without really talking about TB, we are missing the game, and not properly managing something that contributes to the death of our people.”

One aspect of that discussion is the stigma attached to the disease: a lot of people associate TB with HIV, and treat sufferers as though they're doomed to die, and are in some sense responsible for their suffering. “So the problem becomes this: if I'm diagnosed with TB, I'm scared to tell people and scared to go for treatment, because people will think I have HIV.”

TB is highly infectious, and it's airborne – so it can affect anybody. “People forget that you can walk into a bank and get TB,” Prof Phetlhu said. “People should still be aware that you can have TB without HIV, and that TB is curable even if you have HIV. You can still take your treatment and you'll get cured.”

The message is simple, but important. “Those people with TB need support from their communities,” said Prof Phetlhu. “They need to be able to take their treatment and go about their lives without being stigmatised. They're sick, but they're still human beings, and they can be cured.”