Today is World TB Day, and for 2022 this year’s theme is ‘Invest to End TB. Save Lives’.
World TB day is always important for us here at Maluk Timor. TB or Tuberculosis, a disease all but eradicated from the developed world, is still a major health challenge in Timor-Leste.
An ongoing tragedy on Australia’s doorstep
This young nation has the highest rate of death from TB in the world, with one in six deaths in Timor-Leste attributed to this curable and preventable disease. Poor knowledge and stigma of TB are huge barriers to elimination. Many are unaware of the symptoms of TB, or fear it and avoid testing, leaving TB is under-recognised and under-treated.
Our Maluk has been tackling TB since 2017, using tracing, triage, and training to fight this entirely preventable disease. More recently our focus has expanded to a multi-drug resistant TB education, counselling and peer support training.
A visit that identifies and educates
I’ll share with you a little story of one of our contact tracing visits in a rural town. Today we are visiting a family, whose father contracted TB in 2021, but has recovered and is back at work. We try to check in with recovered patients every six months and this was the family’s first visit.
The TB Team is well-equipped – flip charts, scales, gloves, hand sanitiser, stethoscopes, folders of forms, sputum cups, cool box – all neatly packed in a satchel.
MT’s Dr Zizelda starts with introductions and how contact tracing works. Dina and Tania start collecting information of all the family members in the house: age, weight, MUAC (Mid Upper-Arm Circumference)… Neighbours’ curiosity gets the better of them and they wander over.
Nikson pulls out the Flipchart and talks to the growing crowd about TB; symptoms, healthy diet, treatment and the fact that TB is curable with the right treatment. Three children coming back from school with their brightly coloured school bags, shyly run past, but then see the weighing scales and come back to check them out.
Dr Zizelda then examines each member of the household – there are eight today. We screen for symptoms such as trouble breathing, chest pain, night sweats, swelling around lymph nodes. It’s harder with the children – one who was happily playing suddenly burst into tears at the sight of the bright blue weighing scales and we had to improvise by weighing dad with and without her!
Suspected cases identified and sent for treatment
From this visit, one young family member had had a persistent cough and gave a sputum sample and the Maluk team decided her symptoms warranted a chest X-Ray, which we organised for the next day. The examination of the family also revealed some tell-tale lumps on the throat of a woman who had recovered from TB ten years ago. She was referred directly to the National Hospital for a thorough examination – a standard procedure for recurring infections showing similar symptoms.
This is the normal day for Maluk Timor’s TB Team – they go to another household in the afternoon; twice a day, 4-5 days a week. They deliver the sputum samples to the laboratory, and all the data they collect is entered into a database used to track infectious diseases.
Helping us EndTB sooner in Timor
This process is slow and labour intensive, but it saves lives. We can see the difference we are making every day.
With more donations and resources, we will be able to have even more teams to help identify, treat and EndTB even faster.
On this World TB day, you can help us EndTB even sooner by investing in us. That means donating directly if you can or sharing this story, and the story of TB in Timor-Leste on your social media or when you talk to your friends.
You can find out more about our TB program and all the things we are doing to EndTB here