Suffering in silence. TB patients endure stigma associated with Covid

Written By: Dickson Wekesa

Millicent Ann Ouru recovering TB patient

The government early this year implemented and enforced a series of public health interventions when the coronavirus pandemic struck the country in March.

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They included lockdowns, prohibition of public gatherings, curfew among other strict protocols.

However, these measures have had both positive and negative results. While they have mitigated the spread of the virus, the number of those seeking medical services has reduced drastically.

The plight of TB patients as the pandemic soars has not been given much thought with many shunning hospitals for fear of stigmatisation.

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We caught up with some of the patients in Mombasa county who have faced the hurdles in accessing TB treatment and care.  Ronald Peter Munyoki a fruit vendor at Kongowea market shares his ordeal while battling TB amidst the spread of Covid 19 where stigma from the neighbours and access to treatment proved to be almost impossible.

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Peter Munyoki

Millicent Ann Ouru Maweni also a TB patient undergoing treatment says life has been difficult since she started ailing during the lockdown.

Being the sole provider, Maweni a hairdresser lost her job due to the pandemic and has been unable to provide for her family.  She is at the mercy of a well-wisher who has accommodated her.

Norman Otieno the Mombasa county TB management advocacy champion says they have been missing out on their targets since the pandemic because many patients have been shying away from accessing health facilities.

Norman Otieno Mombasa TB management advocacy champion

According to the latest report at Junda dispensary, there are only 29 patients seeking treatment against a target of between 50 and 100.

The situation is the same in the neighbouring Kwale county, Leonus Tanui medical officer in charge of TB and leprosy in Kwale county says during this period the number of drug defaulters increased forcing health workers to come up with ways that will encourage patients to access drugs.

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TB, like COVID-19, is an airborne transmitted infectious disease which experts say there is a need to understand the symptoms to avoid unnecessary stigmatization.

While experience on COVID-19 infection in TB patients remains limited, it is anticipated that people with both TB and Covid may have poorer treatment outcomes, especially if TB treatment is interrupted. TB patients should take precautions as advised by health authorities to be protected from COVID-19 and continue their TB treatment as prescribed.

Rahab Mwaniki campaigns Manager at the Kenya Aids NGOs Consortium (KANCO) says they have been implementing the Global fund TB program supported by the Global fund and coordinated by Amref South Africa in Kilifi Kwale Kitui and Mombasa counties in supporting TB programming to ensure that the patients have access to treatment and monitor outcomes.

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In a research carried out by the organization on the impact of covid 19 and TB programming in Kenya between March and July this year it was established that 80% of patients could not access health services due to lockdowns, 50% of the respondents say they were not able to get transport to health facilities.

Rahab also says the stigmatization of TB patients in accessing services proved to be a big challenge as well relocation of health workers to COVID-19 centres.

She says all TB patients need special care and support in fighting the disease.





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