In the “Western world”, hearing the word tuberculosis does not generate much fear, if it is treated promptly and with the appropriate instructions, it is not even perceived as a serious disease. Unfortunately, this is a “privilege” for the few.
In Africa, tuberculosis is still a disease that causes many victims, 1,4 million in 2019. Every year, only in Uganda, nearly 89,000 new cases of Tb occur, among them 6,176 in Karamoja Region (WHO). But not all stories have an inevitable ending. Doctors with Africa CUAMM is committed to offering care and knowledge to those in need, even in the most remote places, as in the case of Ochan Richard, a former soldier of Uganda People’s Defence Force. Ochan, 50, already infected with HIV, was first diagnosed with TB in 2011, which worsened into multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) a few years later. Tuberculosis is one of the major causes of death for HIV patients who, with the progressive weakening of their immune system, contract the disease more easily and often with lethal consequences if it is not treated.
Ochan’s story, which seemed to have a written ending, changed when he arrived at St. Kizito Hospital of Matany in the Napak district of Karamoja. After many years of interrupted treatments due to work needs and difficulties in obtaining the necessary medicines, Ochan was finally able to have access to the care he needed thanks also to the encouragement and support of his family who prompted him to seek help at the Matany Hospital despite the distance from his home. A 75 km route full of hopes that have given him confidence in a still long life.
After two months he was discharged and personally taken home by the CUAMM hospital team specialized in tuberculosis which was responsible for raising awareness among the family and the entire community on the signs and symptoms of tuberculosis, on how it develops, on the adequate treatment and finally on how to avoid its spread.
“The same day I got home, my family and some community members were screened and all were healthy.” – said Ochan, adding – “I am deeply grateful to the hospital staff of Matany and to the CUAMM staff, for all the efforts they have made to save my life and that of many others. Whenever I come back for treatment, I am sure that I will get reimbursement for transport and meals, and given my situation it is a great incentive to be able to continue treatment regularly”.
A similar story to that of Santos, 32, who was diagnosed with multi-resistant tuberculosis. After numerous interruptions in treatment, in which skipping even a single day of treatment means starting over each time, Santos had decided to abandon himself to his fate and leave the Kotido Hospital where he was being treated.
“I left the hospital and went to stay with my older sister, Martha. As soon as I arrived at her house, my cough and health conditions only got worse. Therefore Martha insisted that I go back to the hospital where I was examined and diagnosed with multi-resistant tuberculosis. The doctors immediately contacted the Matany Hospital, the only institution specilized in this disease and able to offer adequate care and support where I was reffered to and hospitalized by the team of Doctors with Africa CUAMM”, says Santos.
After a month and a half of treatment, Santos could no longer bear the kanamycin injections that were administered to him daily so he escaped from the hospital returning to his village. Victor, the CUAMM regional official did not give up and went to his home convincing him not to renounce and to resume treatment.
Although tuberculosis is still a deadly disease in Africa, at Matany Hospital there is the hope of adequate care and treatment, which is not limited to the administration of the necessary drugs but it offers the opportunity to be followed by medical staff with dedication, and be accompanied in the understanding and acceptance of one’s illness.
These happy ending stories were made possible thanks to the intervention in Karamoja to improve the quality of services for diagnosis and treatment of Tb and multi-drug resistant Tb, particularly within the projects: “It’s Good Tb free! Project to contribute to a TB Free Uganda by 2020“, financed by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, as part of the expenditure for technical assistance to the Global Fund for the fight against aids, tuberculosis and malaria and implemented by Doctors with Africa CUAMM in partnership with the University of Milan and the University of Makerere, and the project ” Support to St. Kizito Hospital of Matany and to the Napak Distrcit in Karamoja”, financed by Fondation Assistance Internationale (FAI).