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South Africa Dispatches: Engaging a Community on Kids TB

ACTION partners around the world take the fight against tuberculosis (TB) to halls of government around the world, every day. It’s an important part of the global effort to end TB, but we can undoubtedly get caught up in a grind of statistics, facts, and our email inboxes. But there is no better time than World TB Day to be reminded of the very real impact of TB on people's lives, every day – and sometimes it takes a community to give you that reminder. 

Yesterday, I travelled with ACTION staff from our UK and D.C. offices into the heart of Khayelitsha – a sprawling township on the edge of Cape Town, one of Africa’s richest cities. Medcines Sans Frontieres have estimated that the area’s drug-resistant TB rate may be the highest in the world.

At a local primary school, hundreds of community members had gathered for Kick TB’s World TB Day events, along with South Africa’s Minister of Health Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi. Kick TB provides education on tuberculosis and its symptoms to school-age children using various tactics, including providing soccer balls with educational information on TB. Wearing t-shirts with anti-TB messaging, children sang songs about tuberculosis and actually managed to sit somewhat still while listening to speeches from various dignitaries.

Globally, 200 kids die of TB every day – and with one of the highest TB and HIV burdens in the world, South African children are undoubtedly among this count.  

Just last week, Cape Town’s Health Promotion Officer Eleanor Sopili was sitting at the bedside of her own grand daughter who was coughing so hard from a tuberculosis cough she couldn’t sleep. Luckily for her grandaughter, Ms. Sopili has is knowledgeable about TB and was able to get her granddaughter proper care, quickly.

But she says that’s not the case for many children in Khayelitsha.  “Other mothers don’t have this ability and children suffer,” said Ms. Sopili. She explains that it's important to educate children themselves -- at a young age -- so they can know for themselves whether they are sick and how they can get treatment.

The week leading up to World TB Day is always laden with official statements and speeches, and the community event in Khayelitsha indeed featured the same. But it was a powerful reminder that advocates like ACTION must ensure these speeches turn into actual resources and effective programs that address the needs of the most vulnerable citizens of our global society -- the children of  communitites such as Khayelitsha.