Sam-Emuwa is an Atlas Corps Fellow working with the ACTION Secretariat on a one-year fellowship. In addition to many other accomplishments, Ifesinachi has over eight years of professional experience in the nonprofit sector working with the Treasureland Health Builders Initiative.
Having worked as a health advocate for close to a decade now in Nigeria, there is need for more action in the fight against tuberculosis (TB) in Nigeria. As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark yet another World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, March 24, 2016, it’s important that all hands be on deck if we are to achieve a TB free world. Nigeria is among the high TB burden countries, with 570,000 new cases each year – more than any other country in Africa.
TB, which is preventable and treatable, is still highly stigmatized in Nigeria. People try to avoid a person diagnosed with TB even after the person has been treated and is no longer contagious. Many people do not readily seek medical help when they notice a persistent cough or other signs of TB for fear of being stigmatized.
As a health advocate, I have been involved in community mobilization and sensitization on TB. It overwhelming the amount of ignorance that still exists; some people still view TB as an ancient disease. I believe we need to create more awareness around TB prevention, management, treatment, care and support so everyone can be informed and know when and where to seek medical help.
I have also come across myths about TB in my work. One common myth is that “TB is a bewitchment”, that it doesn’t just happen, it is created by evil powers. So rather than seeking medical help, many infected with TB seek spiritual help and continue to spread the disease in their communities. This myth is common especially amongst rural communities.
It is important to show love and care to persons infected or affected by TB. As a health advocate, I pledge to continue raising awareness, especially in rural areas. Communities should be empowered with adequate information, including TB burdens by State. Each State in Nigeria has varying ethnicities and other socio-economic indices which may be contributing to care-seeking attitudes and awareness around the disease.
Because it is airborne, TB is a disease that can affect anyone irrespective of social, educational or financial status. However, TB is often found in overcrowded places with poor housing and ventilation. Everyone must be involved in the fight to stop TB. Governments, agencies, the private sector, civil societies, media, communities and individuals all have a stake in this fight, if we must achieve a TB free world.
There are many other challenges to combatting TB in Nigeria. Accessibility to services remains a huge challenge as most of the population lives far from a clinic. The quality of TB services also need to be improved. I have witnessed situations where medical personnel providing TB treatment services were not adequately protected against TB using gloves and masks. Infection control is important to stopping the spread of TB and protecting the health care workers providing services.
The past few years Nigeria has taken a step in the right direction by installing nearly 100 new GeneXpert machines across the country, allowing more people to be accurately diagnosed with TB. An investment must also be made to continue training medical personnel on how to use the machines and ensuring each GeneXpert machines has routine maintenance.
While Nigeria receives funding from sources like the Global Fund, it is important for the government to increase domestic resource mobilization for health to ensure adequate funding. It is also important that the government strategically work with civil society at all levels to halt and reverse the alarming rate of TB in Nigeria, ensuring that all who are diagnosed with TB are adequately treated and monitored. With more efforts from all sides, I believe we can stop TB in Nigeria.