Communities battling tuberculosis, HIV and isolation in Uganda

Publicado: 24 marzo 2014 11:07 CET

By Willie Brens Wambedde, Uganda Red Cross Society  

Paul Kiterera, 51, lives in a village 20 kilometres northwest of Uganda’s capital Kampala. When his first marriage ended in divorce in 2008, he remained a single parent for almost three years before remarrying. “Due to the challenges I went through as a single parent, I did not bother to get tested for any infections or to ask my new wife about her HIV status,” said Kiterera.

His new wife developed a bad cough and recurring fever and was advised by a Red Cross volunteer to visit a local health centre. The diagnosis was not good. Kiterera’s wife had HIV and was in the late stages of a tuberculosis (TB) infection. Although treatment was started immediately, she succumbed to the illness. 

“I remember one day during the hospital visits with my late wife, the Red Cross volunteer said that since I was in direct contact with her, it was easy for me to also contract tuberculosis because it’s an airborne disease,” said Kiterera.

Major cause of death

Tuberculosis is a disease that usually affects the lungs. Although preventable and curable, it remains the leading cause of death among people infected with HIV worldwide. It is an opportunistic disease that takes advantage of people whose immune system is already weakened.   

According to the World Health Organization’s Global Report for 2012, Uganda is ranked 18th among the 22 high burden countries that account for approximately 80 per cent of new TB cases arising each year globally. The Uganda Ministry of Health reported approximately 47,000 cases in the country in 2012, reflecting a continuing decline over the past decade.

A few months following his wife’s passing, Kiterera developed a productive cough with blood stains and became weak. At the local health centre he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and HIV, and was immediately put on medication for tuberculosis and on anti-retroviral treatment.  

The Uganda Red Cross Society volunteer team visited Kiterera continuously, to follow up on his progress. At the same time, the Red Cross ensured that his six children attended school, and volunteers prepared meals for the family. Three months later, the tuberculosis infection was gone.  

Supporting livelihoods

The Red Cross support group has a revolving fund which allows people to borrow money for income-generating projects. Kiterera received funds to rear pigs so he could earn money to look after his family. During weekly meetings of the support group, Kiterera now urges fellow group members to always test for HIV and support people living with the disease.

“I give great thanks to the Red Cross for their support when I was ill and for the continued counselling and guidance to always have a balanced diet, for the learning materials for my  children, food supplements and the mosquito net,” said Kiterera. “I was stranded, confused and had stopped interacting with other community members, but with the Red Cross coming into my life, I have managed to live a positive life.”  

Since January 2011, the Uganda Red Cross Society has been implementing a programme that provides support to those living with HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis, as well as orphans and vulnerable children. Funded by The Netherlands Red Cross, the programme offers nursing care, food security, psychosocial support, health promotion, HIV testing and counseling, treatment support, income generating activities and education support. The programme runs until 2015.

In pictures: World TB Day