Masks for TB Prevention

Survivors of multi drug resistance tuberculosis (MDR TB) and leading NGOs took to the streets for World Tuberculosis Day at the weekend (24 March) to urge people to support Kenya's TB patients.

Survivors of multi drug resistance tuberculosis (MDR TB) and leading NGOs took to the streets for World Tuberculosis Day at the weekend (24 March) to urge people to support Kenya’s TB patients.

World TB Day is a global annual event that aims to raise public awareness of TB and the effort made to prevent and treat the disease.

The organizations marching comprised of Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium (KANCO), Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN), Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya (WOFAK) ,Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association (KEHPCA) and Medecins Sans Frontieres Kenya (MSF-Kenya).

They are asking people to wear surgical masks to show support for the estimated 150,000 TB patients in Kenya. They have also used the run-up to World TB day to demand that the Kenyan government takes urgent action by completing the isolation ward at Kenyatta National Hospital, which has been under construction since 2005. When finished the isolation ward will provide a safe place for treatment for drug resistant TB patients.

The activists also want the government to allocate more resources to Kenya’s health budget to reduce the reliance on development agencies in the fight against TB. Currently, approximately 30% of Kenya’s drug resistant TB patients are treated by NGOS.

While on the streets the TB advocates took the opportunity to sensitize people about TB.

“The day was quite a success because besides sensitizing the community on TB, we were also able to understand the perceptions people have on TB.” reported Ms Evelyn Kibuchi, KANCO’s TB Manager.

On why they were wearing masks, Ms Kibuchi said: “We just wanted the public to understand the use of masks is to protect them against TB and they should understand and appreciate anyone who is wearing a mask. That is why we are wearing masks today; to de-stigmatize them.”

Fellow marcher, Ms Wariara Mugo of MSF said TB infection control should be part of the training medical personnel receive and not just a discussion that is held in communities where people have TB.

“It is unfortunate that medical staff are more concerned with treating and dispensing medicine rather than how to prevent people from getting TB. I have not seen medical staff in hospitals wearing masks. If they were to do it they would be putting an emphasis on infection control which is one of the bigger care aspects of TB care,” she said.

According to Ms Mugo, wearing masks by TB patients should be seen as something positive because the essence of this action is to prevent further transmission of TB.

The organizations marching are of the opinion that developing a clear policy on how to detect and manage patients with MDR-TB will help prevent more cases of MDR-TB. They want the government to develop policies that improve standards of care for TB patients and allow them to access free medicine, thereby acknowledging their right to health.

Over the years, the number of TB cases in Kenya have stabilized and declined. According to the latest World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2011 global report, Kenya ranks 15th on the list of high burden TB countries in the world and the fifth highest burden in Africa.

TB is an infectious bacterial disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which most commonly affects the lungs. It is transmitted from person to person via droplets from the throat and lungs of people with the disease.

The theme for this year’s World Tuberculosis Day was Stopping TB in my lifetime.