Giving voice to the voiceless and bringing healthcare for all on World TB Day

Published: 23 March 2012 13:37 CET

By Giovanni Zambello

Millena is six years old and she is the only child in the family. Living alone with her mother, her father has been in prison since before she was born - Millena always dreamed of the day her family is reunited and she will live happy with both her parents at her side. But one day, her father died in prison from tuberculosis. A shock for Millena and her mother.

A few months later, the situation takes a further turn for the worse, when her mother gets sick, and there is only Millena to take care of her. Her mother’s condition deteriorates rapidly and, after undergoing a tests at the local policlinic, Millena and her mother discover they are both infected with TB.

Thanks to the support of the Armenian Red Cross, whose social workers visit them on a regular basis providing psychosocial support and administering the Directly Observed Therapy – Short (DOTS) course, both mother and daughter start to recover from the disease. Millena is now seven, and this year she will go to primary school.

According to WHO figures, as many as 500,000 children around the world still contract TB every year, and some 70,000 die of this treatable disease, which can be cured for as little as $100USD. Children under three are considered to be the most at risk, which may leave theme blind, deaf and paralyzed, even if cured.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, together with the Stop TB Partnership, is strongly committed to raising awareness of the magnitude of the disease worldwide. Red Cross Red Crescent societies are also devoted to improving efforts to reach the unreached – three million people around the world still lack TB care - encouraging TB prioritization and, in their role of auxiliaries to public authorities, advocating for decision- and policy-makers to put TB at the top of their agenda.

“Even though highly successful cures are now available, tuberculosis still remains underestimated among children and often fails to be diagnosed on time,” says Sonja Tanevska, IFRC Health Coordinator in the Europe Zone. “More effective diagnostics for paediatric TB and specific training for health operators working with babies, children and pregnant women; early detection of  symptoms; and quick reference for treatment are among the key steps needed today. But, above all, the Red Cross Red Crescent needs to give voice to people living with the disease and empower them to be active participants in decisions related to their own treatment and care.”

Artur is five. He caught tuberculosis from his mother, who died not long after his birth. After her death, Artur was placed in state care, and has been under treatment at the hospital for almost all his short life. His internal organs and central nervous system have been damaged by the disease and he has had several complex surgeries.

However, regardless of his grave illness and weakness, Artur is a very cheerful and sociable boy, for whom the visits of the Belarusian Red Cross volunteers are a real treat: the psychological counselling unit of the Red Cross branch in Minsk, composed of pedagogues, kindergarten teachers and mothers, pays regular visits to the children’s department of the Republican Scientific Practical Centre of Pulmonology and Phthisiology of Belarus, providing support to children who, like Artur, are under TB treatment. Currently, 34 children are accommodated there. Most of them are from orphanages, and will be spending a period of about one year in the centre before they fully recover from the disease.

On 24 March 2012, World TB Day, the volunteers of the Belarusian Red Cross, with the involvement of staff from the UN representation in Belarus and variety artists from the country, will be spending the day with the kids of the medical centre, organizing a special event for them, with music and presents.

The world TB Day Campaign 2012 will allow people across the world to make an individual call to stop the disease in their lifetime, aim for zero new deaths from TB, and advocate for a world free of TB.

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