World TB Day is observed on 24 March every year to raise public awareness about tuberculosis (TB) and to accelerate efforts to eliminate the disease. This year’s theme for World TB Day is: It’s Time. These may seem like just two simple words, yet they carry a lot of weight and interpretation.
This year, World TB Day comes as we are faced with a global coronavirus pandemic. I commend health professionals, state leaders, communities and everyone who is working tirelessly to figure ways of combating this disease. At the same time, our communities continue to face other public health challenges. TB may be one of the oldest known infectious diseases, but it still remains among the deadliest in the world, especially in developing countries.
What always gives me hope about TB is that it is preventable, treatable and curable. When it comes to TB prevention, the responsibility does not only rest with clinical and medical efforts, you and I have a critical role.
Earlier today I had a conversation with Lerato, a young woman aged 24 from Johannesburg. She was diagnosed with TB of the lungs in 2018. She explained that like most young people, she never thought she would be infected by TB. In fact, she does not remember how she was exposed and got infected. All she could remember was not feeling well and experiencing symptoms like coughing for more than two weeks, weight loss and night sweats.
She did not visit the clinic right away as she thought she was just having a cold. Three weeks passed by and she lost a lot of weight. Neighbours and some of the community members started whispering behind her back. Gossip was fuelling so fast in the neighbourhood that she was dying. There is a lot of stigma around TB particularly if you are young and a woman.
Eventually, her mother who supported her throughout the ordeal convinced her to visit the clinic. She was diagnosed and immediately was put on treatment. She had to stay in isolation for a while to prevent her from spreading the bacteria to her family. As instructed by the healthcare providers, she took her treatment and followed a healthy lifestyle.
Lerato is now completely cured from TB and living her best life. Heeding to the call of Its Time, she wants to contribute her bit in combating TB. She wants to speak openly about her story to other young people.
Lerato believes by coming out and sharing her story, that will inspire more young people to take TB seriously, seek help and eliminate stigma: “It’s time that young people take responsibility to end TB instead of waiting on government to spoon-feed them, and it starts with me.”