Speech by Valda Kereu, Regional TB Coordinator at World Vision Papua New Guinea. Read related story "Breaking the Silence on Tuberculosis Saves Lives"
As parents, we all worry about our children, we want them to be healthy and happy. We want to see them running and playing and laughing.
We read stories about other people’s children being afflicted by disease and we’re all thankful it isn’t our child, except sometimes it is. Sometimes the very thing we most dread happening happens.
I’m a health worker in Papua New Guinea. Every day I work with other people in my community to educate them and help them treat tuberculosis (TB). I help ensure they have access to medicine, treatment and the services they need to heal. I was already working in healthcare when I contracted TB myself in 2009.
Due to my job, by the time I went to hospital to be diagnosed, I was already certain I had TB. I had lost a lot of weight, I had night sweats, I was too breathless to lie flat in bed, and even walking a short distance was a very difficult task because I was constantly out of breath. Still looking at my own x-ray, seeing my lungs filled with fluid, was shocking. When the diagnosis was delivered, I went to the hospital car park and cried. I was devastated that I had TB because I knew what the diagnosis meant for me. Six months of extensive treatment, lots of side effects and I knew that there was stigma attached to having TB.
TB does not discriminate and can affect people regardless of their status in society. Because TB is air borne, the only guaranteed way not to get TB is not to breath. TB does not respect boarders or stop at your front door, if it is in your community it can easily come into your home, something I can tell you from experience nobody wants to have happen.
I completed my treatment and was inspired to work in tuberculosis healthcare full-time. I made a full recovery and put my own TB experience behind me focussing on helping others until TB came knocking at my front door uninvited again and this time, it came looking for my son, Richard.
Richard was just fourteen months old when he contracted TB. They kept telling me it was pneumonia but I knew, despite wishing otherwise that they were wrong.
The medicine was bitter for my son to take, especially the Isoniazid and Ethambutol. He hated taking his medication, which I had to dissolve in water and force him to swallow every day for 9 months. The doctors said he would get used to it but he never did. Every day getting the medicine into him was a struggle.
Thankfully, he has now completed his treatment and the TB is cured. He is a happy, healthy 3-year-old running around the house getting up to mischief. I could have lost him but I am grateful that there was TB medication available for him and other children like him as well.
Our story is not unique, although most people are not aware tuberculosis is the most prevalent infectious disease in the world. It kills over 1.8 miilion people globally and tens of millions of new cases are detected each year. You’re not aware of this because TB has an image problem, people who get it don’t like to talk about it and in countries like Australia, TB is largely under control. On March 24th, World TB Day, I add my voice to those trying to show the impact tuberculosis has on families like mine from all over the world.
Featured image: World Vision TB Coordinator Valda Kereu raises awareness about impact of TB in the Asia Pacific Region during World TB Day Parliamentary Breakfast at Parliament House.