Volunteers on the frontline with South African Red Cross

Publié: 5 septembre 2014 11:00 CET

Sivuyile Kati is one of 43 Red Cross caregivers in the South Africa’s Eastern Cape volunteering his time to support people living with Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB). Like the other dedicated caregivers in the programme, he spends a couple of hours in his local clinic every day, meeting with his clients and working with nurses to provide clients with their daily medication. “At first they don’t trust me, so I show them my pills and tell them ‘I’m MDR-TB too’. I take my pills and my card everywhere with me so they know, I am just like them,” he says.

If his clients don’t show up, he sets out to find them, walking through the community to their homes where he provides education, support, and encouragement.

MDR-TB is a strain of tuberculosis that is resistant to at least isoniazid and rifampin, the two most potent TB drugs. Treatment for MDR-TB is complex, and is usually administered for two years or longer. Many of the drugs used for MDR-TB treatment are toxic and can have severe side effects.

Nausea is a common side effect, that Sivuyile has also suffered throughout his treatment. Undaunted, Sivuyile sees his illness as an opportunity, as he gets to meet and support those in a similar situation to himself, and he gets daily exercise, keeping himself healthy during his treatment.

Sivuyile Kati works in his community to help ensure people with MDR-TB complete their treatment, which is vital in combating this disease.

“I met Sivuyile a few months ago when he had been recently diagnosed,” says Ruth Van Rooyen, Project Manager for the Eastern Cape MDR-TB initiative. “I was impressed with how he wanted to make a difference in his community and set an example for others. When the opportunity arose to have a new caregiver, I immediately thought of him.”

By many measures the Eastern Cape is the poorest province in South Africa. In the Eastern Cape, TB is one of the biggest causes of death. When TB becomes resistant to the strongest drugs available to fight the disease, the result is MDR-TB, and the chances of being cured are reduced. In South Africa’s townships poverty, HIV, and crowded living situations, provide fertile ground for the disease.

“The challenge is that once someone has been diagnosed with MDR-TB, they need daily treatment for two years,” says Erin Law, Regional Health Officer for the IFRC in southern Africa. “They sometimes have to take upwards of 16 pills a day, all with their own side effects. In the context of someone who is already living in difficult circumstances, this can be extremely hard.”

By demonstrating to others in his community that they are not fighting the disease alone Sivuyile provides them with hope for a life without the disease. Every time he puts on his Red Cross vest and begins his day as a volunteer, he is contributing to saving people’s lives.

“I want to prove to them – and to prove to myself – that you can get better from MDR-TB. When I finish my treatment I can show them I’m cured and they can be too.”