Building Global Awareness of the
Impact of Tuberculosis
The Ripple Effect of TB
|Rachel Azanleko-Akouete (l-r), Amanda Beals, Thokozile Phiri-NKhoma
and Scott Berry
who is also a volunteer with RESULYS, a global anti-poverty organization. “I’m very passionate about talking about TB because as a nurse, I work with clients who
have TB. I have seen how TB impacts and disrupts families. My goal is to really talk about it so people can be aware of it. We also need to educate our elected
officials so that they will make better decisions when it comes to allocating resources and being dedicated to its eradication.”
By Jonathan Gramling
As a public health nurse, Rachel Azanleko-Akouete is well aware of the impact of
tuberculosis or TB. While many may think that TB was eradicated long ago, according to the
CDC, 470 people died from TB in 2015.
“A total of 9,272 TB cases (a rate of 2.9 cases per 100,000 persons) were reported in the
United States in 2016,” the CDC says. “TB disease in the United States is most common
among people who travel to or who were born in countries with high rates of TB. The case
rate among non-U.S.–born persons (14.7 cases per 100,000 persons) was approximately
14 times higher than among U.S.-born persons (1.1 cases per 100,000 persons). 470
people died from TB in 2015.”
And where TB crops up, the impact can be devastating.
“TB is on the rise now and is affecting many people every day,” said Azanleko-Akouete
Thokozile Phiri-NKhoma, executive director of Facilitators of Community. Transformation, knows all about the impact of TB on a family. She lives in Malawi and has
seen it firsthand devastate her family for there are primary, secondary and even tertiary negative impacts that can doom a family to poverty for generations to come.
“In 1984-1985, most of our countries in the global south were very much impacted by HIV,” Phiri-NKhoma said. “My country declared HIV an emergency in 1985.
During those times, we saw a lot of people getting ill. And most governments didn’t know what was happening. We lost a lot of people. In 1990, that’s when my
family got affected. I started experiencing my father losing weight and had unexplained illnesses. He was back and forth to the hospital. He was a professional. He
was in charge of the accounting for the government and he was a very responsible man in government. By that time, he was in and out of work. He changed jobs
very frequently. And there was a time in 1997 when he got seriously ill. And he was in the hospital for over four months. I must say that I come from a family of four
kids. My mother was someone who wasn’t working. We depended on my father so much. Him being in the hospital for four months meant that he had to be out of
work. No employer back then would accept someone to be out of a job for over four months, so he was out of a job completely. This meant the income in the
household got blown up.”
And as the family plunged into the depths of poverty — Phiri-NKhoma’s mother had to stay home to take care of the children — the crisis became more severe.
When it was too late, her father was diagnosed with HIV and TB. Her father passed.
“When I was 13-years-old in 1997 and my dad died, I also started coughing because we had poor support and lack of proper nutrition,” Phiri-NKhoma said. “We
were in bad shape because my mother was not working and she had to take care of all of the children. And on top of that, two of my siblings were HIV positive, my
younger brother and my younger sister. My mom was also HIV positive as well. So I developed TB disease and I took the drugs and I was cured, which was never
the case with my brother who at the age of 16 developed TB disease and unfortunately, he passed on.”
The disease continued to take a toll on Phiri-NKhoma’s family.
“We have health access problems as we speak,” Phiri-NKhoma said. “It hurts me so much because by the time my mom was passing, I had TB. Everyone had TB.
But it still claimed the life of my mom. We rushed to the hospital and then to the next and no doctor was able to tell her that was TB and here are the drugs until she
died. Can you imagine when we have the science, when we have the drugs, when we know that the disease is preventable and is curable and is treatable, why
should we be losing people, 4,600 people every day? Why aren’t we talking about it? Those are some of the things that we as a global community should be talking
about so we bring issues to the awareness of people who can really make that change.”