For many tuberculosis (TB) survivors here in the Philippines, the fight against the disease continues even after they were cleared of it.
Once an aspiring architect, Louie Teng recalled the biggest turning point in her life back in 2007 when she discovered she had extrapulmonary TB (EPTB) called Tuberculosis Meningitis (MTB), a rare form of TB. Meningeal tuberculosis affected her brain causing her to lose her eyesight in the process of treatment.
Battling TB, Teng shared, was one of the most difficult stages in her life, and losing her vision made it even worse. This led her to experience stages of depression, anxiety, and fear of discrimination from something that she considered to be an “old disease”.
Her recovery was considered a “miracle” by her doctor, as she was told MTB could have resulted in a fatal incident since there were no existing cases locally at that time.
After months of treatment and rehabilitation, Teng used her experience to provide a ray of hope to those still battling the disease.
As the president of TBPeople Philippines Organization, Inc. and a survivor advocate for the Department of Health’s #TBFreePH campaign, she uses her platform to educate and help those who do not fully monitor their treatment, those in far-flung communities, and those who have both TB and existing disabilities.
“We just want people to listen. Filipinos are just looking for direct intervention, complete with a lot of these programs and proper messaging like for example, we have to be clear and concise with the six-month medication, not just two,” emphasized Teng, who meets and listens to stories of currently treating patients via the #TBFreePH Facebook community page.
“With everyone connected through social media, we are able to get more inquiries and refer them to TB facilities and healthcare providers,” she added. “Through this, we can get back on track and reach the ultimate goal which is finding and treating 2.5 million Filipinos by 2022.”
She continued, “Doing community-based forums to inquire about TB should also be established as well as making sure government officials directly communicate that there is free TB medication so everyone can easily access it,” a timely concern citing how the lockdowns contributed to the emotional distress of TB patients because of the lack of access to proper service from healthcare institutions.
Fellow survivor and advocate Mark Regana encourages patients to get the right treatment, knowing first-hand how self-medicating when he was first diagnosed with Pulmonary Tuberculosis (PTB) in 2014 resulted in reactivation in 2016.
Malaya Relacion, another survivor and advocate, fights for more efficient TB detection processes, following her bout with PTB after she visited various remote areas in 2012 as part of her work for a non-government organization.
With the current pandemic, Relacion encourages active and former TB patients to speak up and empower themselves through their experiences and stories. “Like many people with TB, I had to conquer my fears. I was scared to let people know about my story. But being scared means being powerless. So I had to take control of my own life.”
“Today, I am here to let people know what it really means to be TB-free,” she enthused.
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