World TB Day: Enlisting Communities in the Fight

Tuesday, March 24, is World Tuberculosis Day.

Catholic Relief Services is providing tuberculosis treatment and care in eight countries, including the Philippines province of Maguindanao. The Maguindanao Province is one of the poorest provinces in the Southeast Asian country. The life expectancy is age 53, with tuberculosis as one of the leading causes of death. Throughout the province’s 28 communities, our health experts and local partners have devised a system that, in addition to upgrading health facilities, has drafted members of the community to fight the disease.

“We want everyone in their circle of influence to elevate awareness on TB,” says CRS health advisor Elena McEwan. “If the community is not involved in taking charge of the disease, it poses a constant threat.” This even means using local drivers who might otherwise transport produce, to give patients a ride to a health clinic. This community collaboration has significantly increased detection and cure rates.

When we first began the project, there were only five functioning medical laboratories, 19 microscopes and seven medical technologists for the entire province. Upgrades to health facilities have allowed medical workers to treat patients and work more efficiently.

Health workers and residents, who are trained to handle test samples, have volunteered their time to get more residents tested for tuberculosis. Based on our 2007 records, these workers’ efforts alone have produced a 34 percent increase in detected tuberculosis cases.

Volunteer drivers are making overall healthcare more assessable to residents. They also deliver test samples to laboratories among other medical transport needs.

Community support groups give patients an outlet to share their experiences with each other. These support groups also foster awareness within families and the wider community. Because of this, patients “are less afraid of seeking care when they show TB symptoms,” McEwan says. “It’s like a happy ending marriage.”

There are three messages that our health experts want to send developing nations that are facing high rates of tuberculosis.
*The disease is curable.
*The drugs are free.
*Seek care if symptoms such as prolonged coughing occur

- Kai Hill

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