Dr Helene-Mari van der Westhuizen
I became involved with TB Proof when I was a medical student and navigating hospital based training for the first time. My colleagues and I noticed that the TB prevention measures that we were taught about were often not implemented . We met health care workers who had occupational TB, who encouraged us to look for ways to change this. We started with our classmates and expanded to different year groups and universities, using research to document the impact of our intervention. Today, I am still passionate about creating safe healthcare facilities, both for healthcare workers and the patients we serve.
As doctor working in a TB endemic setting, I see the impact of TB every single day. Every time I hear someone cough I think of TB. It became an automatic reflex. But when I treat someone with TB, it is also a reflex to think of the personal experiences of many of my TB Proof colleagues. They have brave stories of combating stigma, persevering and enduring debilitating side effects to conquer this disease. This awareness have helped me to think about the broader impact of TB, and offer stories of hope and inspiration to many.
We have become blunted to the impact of TB in South Africa. We are no longer shocked by the statistics. We should wake up from this slumber and respond to the challenge that TB poses with a sense of urgency – it is unacceptable that TB continues to ravage through our communities in silence. We need to make it a political, funding and research priority, we need to set ambitious targets and follow up on them with determination.
My message to people currently undergoing TB treatment: Having TB can be extremely challenging and we are cheering you on every step of the way. When the time comes to swallow the last tablet or endure the last injection, make a decision to use your experiences to advocate for change! We need more voices, more ideas and more support to end this devastating epidemic.