World TB Day: Voices of TB

The U.S. Agency for International Development hosted a panel of former tuberculosis patients at an event tiled "voices of TB" at the National Press Club on Thursday.

The purpose was to put personal stories and faces behind an issue that is largely explained through impersonal statistics. As moderator David Rochkind explained, "These are not people that exist only in the pages of newspapers of magazines...this is real, and their stories represent reality in a huge part of the world."

The first speaker was Francis George Apina, a 51-year-old Kenyan who struggled with HIV/TB co-infection.

"When you have HIV and you get TB it's like a death sentence," Apina said.

Tuberculosis is the world's leading killer of those infected with HIV, and HIV positive individuals are between 20 and 37 times more likely to contract TB. Apina said that TB diagnosis for HIV patients is particularly difficult in Africa due to a lack of resources.

"It takes a longer time before the results are given, and by that time, a lot of people do lose their lives," Apina said.

Rosalie Stephson of Houston, Texas, spoke about the lack of knowledge about the disease in the developing world. Rosalie's daughter, Faith, was first diagnosed with TB at the age of five. She was given inadequate treatment in the Philippines, and after immigrating to the U.S., her daughter fell sick again at the age of 12. She said that if her daughter had not received treatment in the U.S., she would have died.

Andre Gariseb, a 26-year-old man from Namibia, discussed the negative stigma that often surrounds TB.

"My friends and family thought 'Okay, you stay on your own,' and I became isolated and experienced the worst depression of my life," Gariseb said.

It is commonly understood that tuberculosis is a highly contagious airborne illness, but it is lesser known that after two weeks of treatment it is no longer contagious.

"If you don't have TB, be thankful, it is not something that I would wish for anybody to go through," Gariseb said.

Rachel Orduno a schoolteacher and mother from El Paso, Texas, fell sick at the age of 36, and was originally misdiagnosed with asthma, sinusitis, bronchitis and laryngitis, before finally being diagnosed with TB. Following her diagnosis, her three-year-old niece also fell sick, and seven other family members were on preventative medication. Seeing her three-year-old niece suffer filled her with feelings of pain and guilt.

"As a schoolteacher I may have unfortunately infected a lot of kids," Orduno said.

She has since promoted TB awareness as part of The Amaya Lacson TB Photo-voice Project.

World TB Day is designed to raise awareness about the truths behind TB and falls on March 24, the date on which Robert Koch first discovered and identified the TB bacteria in 1882. One of the overarching themes of World TB Day is the universal nature of the disease.

"Nobody wants to get infected with TB, and yet we share the same air, we are actually breathing the same oxygen, there's one thing that's a fact, that none of us is safe, until everyone is safe," Apina said. "We are all vulnerable to TB."

Organizations in this story

U.S. Agency for International Development 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW Washington, DC 20004

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