Bringing my experiences with drug-resistant tuberculosis to the UK Parliament

My name is Zolelwa Sifumba. I am 24 years of age and am from East London, South Africa. I am a medical student at the University of Cape Town and I am also a Multidrug resistant TB survivor. I contracted TB while doing clinical work for 4th year in the wards of GF Jooste Hospital in Mannenburg, Cape Town.

Infection control at some of the hospitals we work in is not really strict, there are respirators that are to be worn to protect o

Zolelwa, Buci and Bruce in Westminster Hall

urselves from TB but in many hospitals either they are hard to find, they run out of them for the month or they just fail to provide them for us. Also there is the common misconception that health care workers are somehow immune to TB, so not many people make use of the masks. There is some sort of culture that is against the wearing of masks and early in our medical careers, we as students are exposed to this culture.

Needless to say, the treatment process was extremely difficult and horrible because I had many side effects from the treatment; the treatment was extremely hard to tolerate.

In 2013 I joined TB proof, TB Proof, a movement of health workers and students dedicated to educating others about the dangers of TB, and to advocating for improved TB treatment and prevention. It was founded in 2012 by South African Health Care Workers and Student safter multiple personal experiences with occupational tuberculosis, particularly multi-drug-resistant TB. TB Proof is now setting out to achieve three main goals:

  1. To “TB PROOF” our colleagues, students and patients by creating greater awareness of and protection against occupational and nosocomial TB transmission through education and activism.
  2. To destigmatize and prioritize occupational TB by collecting and disclosing proof of an alarming rise in cases.
  3. To mobilize national and global resources through patient advocacy to help address shortcomings in prevention and treatment strategies, both for health care workers and more importantly, the population we serve.

To mobilize national and global resources through patient advocacy to help address shortcomings in prevention and treatment strategies, both for health care workers and more importantly, the population we serve.I quite enjoy the work I do with TB Proof; I usually share my story with people to let them know how difficult life is while on treatment. As part of this work, I received an invitation from RESULTS UK to attend their Tuberculosis Advocacy Tour as a guest speaker on November 2nd – 6th in London, England. This was great news for me and on the 2nd of November I arrived at Heathrow Airport along with the inspirational Busi. Busi is a DR-TB survivor also from Cape Town who has dedicated her life to other TB patients for the past seven years by working as a counsellor for Médecins sans Frontières and joined me as a guest speaker throughout the trip.

Then Monday morning the work began.

Our first meeting was with Caroline Spelman MP in her office. She was very welcoming and as we shared our stories she took interest in what we were saying. Bruce, Health Advocacy Officer at RESULTS, then went on to talk to her about the work RESULTS does and presented her with the Barcelona Declaration. All in all it was quite a successful meeting.

The next day we were to meet Stephen Mosley MP. We arrived at Parliament and waited to be escorted to his office but then he himself came down for us. Yes, quite a surprise! Then he offered to take us on a tour of the Parliament buildings. I have never even seen ours in Pretoria but here I was on a tour of UK Parliament. WOW. He took us all around and we got to see where the Queen would sit when she was there as well as the Houses of Commons and of Lords. Busi and I were just AMAZED to say the least, the buildings were so beautiful and the history so rich.

After the history lesson we went and sat down and got down to the purpose of the whole trip. As we shared our stories with him, he took great interest in what we were saying and began to share with us the things he had seen when he visited Malawi. Both MPs were quite shocked when I told them about the fact that health care workers did not always practice proper infection prevention and control while working with people with TB. We had quite a lengthy discussion with him which was quite fruitful culminating in him agreeing to sign the Barcelona Declaration. Another successful meeting down.

Following this, we visited the MSF UK offices where I finally got to meet Clare Storry. I had been in contact with her while blogging for MSFs TB & Me blog since 2013. We also met a few other members of the team that side and shared my story with them. That was just so great for me because they were all really interested in what I had to say, just like the team at RESULTS as well as the MPs.

On Wednesday morning we set out to meet the last Member of Parliament, Kerry McCarthy. She too was grateful that we took the time to share our stories with her. All of the MPs really took what we had to say seriously and knew that our insights were very important as we had been through the treatment first hand and know the things that need serious work and improvement.

Later that day we went to the London School of Tropical Medicine to take part of their presentation of the results of the TB & Me blog study that MSF conducted. This gave me the opportunity to talk about how blogging made a difference to me both during and after treatment. Busi then did a presentation and then there was a brief Q and A session. It went really well.

All in all I had a great time. The RESULTS team was pleased with the work we did. Busi and I were very grateful for the opportunity and above that just happy that we were able to fulfill the purpose of the trip. As TB Proof we also look forward to doing more work with RESULTS UK in combatting TB and hopefully seeing the end of TB in our lifetime.

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