From Patient to Advocate: Youth Champions Adherence to Tuberculosis Treatment

Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Vivian, at her home in Mathare, one of Nairobi’s largest informal settlements in Kenya.

“I would have died because of defaulting TB treatment. I would not want anyone to suffer or die of TB.”

Diseases like Tuberculosis (TB) and COVID-19 are respiratory infections transmitted by air, and are prevalent across many African countries, including Kenya. It is especially important that people with TB keep their immune system strong by taking their treatment as prescribed and protecting themselves from COVID-19 by washing hands, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing.

However, social distancing when you have 500,000 people crowded into an area of 72.5 kilometers is difficult. That is the challenging situation in Mathare, one of the informal settlements in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Twenty-three-year-old Vivian, a former TB patient, is nevertheless determined to curb the spread of infectious diseases in her community.

“I had a recurring cough, which I assumed would disappear,” Vivian recalls. But the cough persisted, coupled with night sweats, loss of appetite, chest pains, and weight loss. Despite her friend’s advice to seek medical help, Vivian opted for daily over-the-counter medication. She visited the nearest health center only when her health deteriorated.

“At the health center, I was screened, tested and diagnosed with tuberculosis. This shocked me as I had seen people in my community die of the disease,” she says.  With support from health workers at the center, she received treatment and counselling on the importance of taking all the prescribed medication. 

But a few weeks into the treatment, Vivian threw her medicines away since “she felt better.” “The second wave of the disease was so strong, I thought I would die,” she says. After resuming treatment and while recovering, Vivian made a promise to herself that she would use her experience to help others affected by TB. 

Vivian keeps her promise by visiting health centers in her neighborhood, speaking to the young and old on the importance of taking all prescribed medications. She also makes house visits to defaulters, encouraging them to resume treatment. Through her efforts, Vivian represents thousands of youth between ages of 15 – 34 in Kenya who have partnered with USAID programs to improve their quality of life.

Philip Odhiambo, one of the defaulters visited by Vivian, says: “Were it not for Vivian’s counselling, I would not have gone back to taking the prescribed medicines. She educated me and many people on the risk of developing multi-drug resistance, which is expensive and difficult to treat. She also encouraged me to complete the medication to avoid spreading the disease in the community.”

The USAID-funded Tuberculosis Accelerated Response and Care II program partners with Kenya’s Ministry of Health to support the “Stop TB Partnership-Kenya” initiative. Through this partnership, TB champions like Vivian learn to create awareness in their communities, support patients’ understanding of treatment, and conduct peer-to-peer learning sessions. A celebrated youth, she also represents the 70 TB champions in Kenya who have been trained to support, inform, and educate her peers and community.

“Though my work is voluntary with no financial returns, I will continue educating my community on the importance of completing TB medication”, she says. “To fellow youth champions, it’s time to end TB in Mathare, it is time to end TB in Kenya,” she concludes.

Last updated: September 23, 2020

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