The Philippines has the highest incidence rate of Tuberculosis (TB) cases in all of Asia yet providing treatment still remains an imposing challenge for the country’s health sector. When factors such as cost of medication, potential loss of work, and misconceptions on the disease resulting in stigma and discrimination come into play, Filipinos have become less inclined to getting themselves checked and treated.
It does not help that the treatment of tuberculosis is also seen as a long and solitary process. Patients are required to stay at home and follow a daily schedule of medication that could run from six months to a year or even longer–not only taking a toll on them physically, but even affecting their mental wellbeing. With these barriers delaying proper diagnosis and care, experts are foreseeing TB cases to continue rising in the years to come.
Building a #TBFreePH Community
But the situation does not have to remain that way. In the fight towards a TB-Free Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) is helping government meet its vision of finding and treating 2.5 million Filipinos with TB by 2022 through a collaborative online campaign called #TBFreePH, with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)..
In a society that often shies away from topics of taboo, #TBFreePH aims to spark more conversations about tuberculosis in hopes that it will create heightened attention towards the disease and break away from the stigma it carries. By engaging with different communities and sectors, the campaign makes advocates out of everyday Filipinos by providing them opportunities to learn more about TB and on how to support patients diagnosed with it.
One of these opportunities was through the TB Free Treatment Buddies–an online sensitivity workshop designed to educate more people on the nature of tuberculosis by having them volunteer as a treatment buddy for TB patients. Despite the notion that the patients must be isolated to limit transmission during treatment, having a buddy provide directly observed treatment (DOT) is a common and helpful practice, especially for those diagnosed with drug-resistant TB.
To drive more attention, the TB Free Treatment Buddies program partnered with media bloggers to volunteer as support systems for TB patients–putting great emphasis on the role that media can play in the recovery of patients and in raising awareness on the situation they face.
Support as an Online Treatment Buddy
Corner Magazine PH and The Manila Post blogger Allan Balmaceda expressed that the program was a completely enlightening process as he had no personal experience with TB. But after getting to know the situation of his buddy, Noel, he quickly learned that helping patients extended beyond just physical support. Treating patients with respect or being more friendly towards them, explains Balmaceda, is equally important as this can improve their psychological and emotional wellbeing.
He also shared that despite Noel’s situation, it was his optimistic character that further inspired him to advocate about TB on his blogs and to discuss his experience with #TBFreePH online.
For other bloggers, the experience struck a little too close to home. Such was the case of Lucky Magno whose father suffered and died from lung complications. Having been the one to take care of his father, Lucky knows too well the hardships that come with having a family member battle the disease – one being the stigma surrounding TB.
Relating to his own family’s experience and the conversation he had with his own treatment buddy, Lucky further shares that there is a lack of urgency when people are faced with symptoms, often due to fear or shame. “TB is deadly, but it is curable,” he emphasized. “The moment you feel something wrong, seek immediate treatment and complete the medication process.”
As an active member of his barangay and an online content publisher, Lucky intends to assist in advocating for TB Prevention and help in detection and treatment through information dissemination.
Meanwhile, for mothers Aci Bornea and Lariza Garcia, the experiences of their children with primary complex during their early years have made them eager and interested participants toward the treatment buddy program.
Getting paired with 8-year old Jenny, Aci found out that TB can affect anyone at any age. But with the proper treatment and support, recovery can be possible. Being a mother herself, Aci shared that it was reassuring to learn that services such as TB DOTS are free and that the TB FREE PH support group is easily accessible online for patients.
With her online platform, Aci plans to do her part in raising awareness for tuberculosis by sharing more information on TB DOTS and other #TBFreePH initiatives.
As for Lariza, the workshop enlightened the case of helpless sectors often being the ones most vulnerable to the disease and requiring the most help. Her treatment buddy, Analyn, who is diagnosed with TB for the third time is struggling to maintain a job while caring for her family. Despite her predicament, Lariza shares that Analyn continues to undergo her treatment for the sake of her family who have been supporting her.
Annalyn’s bravery has inspired Lariza, and so she plans to share more information about TB on her online blogs in hopes that more people stricken with the disease get the help and support they need.
While government and the health sector are vital in combatting diseases such as tuberculosis, there is more to be achieved when various sectors band together to do their part in creating a community for patients to feel supported and heard. In fighting a disease where access to information is more vital than ever, having media practitioners use their platform can make all the difference in helping more lives recover from TB.
Treatment Buddies’ Blogs: