World TB Day 2020: Living with tuberculosis during the coronavirus crisis

His mother Margaret helped him through nine months of treatment, coming to the health center every month to get the medication.
Papua New Guinea 2019 © Sara Bechstein/MSF
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As the world grapples with the global pandemic of coronavirus, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is concerned for vulnerable groups worldwide, like people with tuberculosis (TB), whose lungs are often damaged and immune systems weakened.


This World TB Day, it’s more critical than ever to maintain and safeguard prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care for people with TB worldwide. As with TB, COVID-19 typically affects the lungs, and people who contract it may show similar symptoms to TB, such as coughing and fever. The lung damage caused by TB and the toll it takes on the immune system means people living with the disease are at a heightened risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, the contagious disease caused by the coronavirus.


As coronavirus spreads, preventing and treating tuberculosis must remain a priority

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Here, people living with TB around the world share their experiences with the disease and with treatment.

World TB Day

Zhytomyr TB Hospital
Svitlana, 33, Ukraine:
“For me, the worst thing about the treatment is that the days can be long and boring. I wish I could be at home with my dogs and cats, but I know that my diagnosis is serious and I need to be here in the tuberculosis (TB) hospital until I am better. But I am building friendships with the other people being treated here. There is a community spirit. It has to be this way—we look out for each other through the tough times. Sharing our fears and supporting one another helps us to stay positive.”
Ukraine 2020 © Hannah Whitcombe/MSF
Arduous and lengthy treatment of tuberculosis
Both Meme Mahiro, 5, and his mother Kari Dusty from Papua New Guinea are on treatment for TB. In the beginning, the other villagers isolated them, but once they saw how both patients improved, they returned to normal behavior. Stigmatization is a severe additional burden for TB patients. It is crucial that TB patients are continuously provided with medication and take their medication regularly. However, access to health care is difficult in a country like Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea 2019 © Sara Bechstein/MSF
Grace Siemtharmawi (17)
Grace Siemtharmawi, 17, from India is a multidrug resistant-TB (MDR-TB) patient. She is still at the beginning of treatment. MSF has built her a small house next to her family’s home where she can live near them without being close enough to infect them.
India 2019 © Jan-Joseph Stok/MSF
LEONID Story: "There's nothing worse than loneliness"
Leonid, 53, from Belarus, spends his days and nights alone in a locked room in the intensive care unit of the Republican TB Institute. Leonid has nightmares, and he is convinced that they are caused by loneliness. Leonid has a daughter and grandchildren but has not seen them since he got sick several years ago. All of his family are afraid of catching TB from him. “Living with TB is very bad. You might as well be dead—no one needs you. There’s nothing worse than loneliness. No one wants to visit me. I’m alone here.”
Belarus 2018 © Viviane Dalles
Gerry Elsdon, TB Leader
Media personality Gerry Elsdon from South Africa was diagnosed with TB in 2002 and has been publicly raising awareness about the issue for 17 years. “TB remains a highly stigmatized disease, and so an important aspect of patient advocacy is to make people who are suffering with TB understand that they are not alone. That there are others like them, and that there is no shame in sharing the impact that TB has had in their lives.”
South Africa 2019 © Jelle Krings