Serial TB survivor speaks: Part Two…TB/HIV co-infection

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The story of Enita Kwaramba 

BORN before the advent of anti-human immune virus (HIV) medication, a serial TB survivor (32), a community pillar in ending AIDS speaks of her journey in and out of hospital since the age of three:

I was taken by another aunt who lived in the rural areas in Mhondoro. 

The journey to Mhondoro marked a turn in my life. 

Tete was very caring, she remains my guardian angel even today.

St Michaels Mission Hospital in Mhondoro, located 122km south-west of Harare, was one of the first few centres to dispense anti-retrovirals as a referral centre. 

Today, I remain in the community as a peer educator, an eye for wellness and a sister to the orphans at St Michaels orphanage. During school holidays, I have or two stay with me at my home. The hospital and the orphanage hold a piece of my heart. 

Special mention goes to Dr Maria Buggiana. 

Adjusting to life in the rural areas was not much of a problem. However, my poor health continued to play havoc on me. I was more at St Michaels Hospital than I was at home with tete. 

Dr Buggiana requested that I move to the orphanage for comprehensive care and start school. 

By the end of 1998, we were a family of 10 minors under the warmth of the hospital’s orphanage. 

TB remained a part of my journey, being the last and final episode. By 1999, the hard work of Dr Buggiana and friends ushered in a new lease of life. 

Anti-retrovirals (ARVs) were sourced from Italy, the doctor’s homeland and from well wishers. All the minor children at the hospital were given priority with a few adults too, commencing ARV treatment. 

I gained weight and completed Grade 7 aged 15, since I had started school late. Dr Buggiana got me a place for secondary education at All Souls Mission in Mutoko. 

The school was informed of my needs; however, stigma was rife. I felt suicidal at times but tete and my elder sister were my strength for carrying on. 

Tete loved me to bits. 

At school pupils were scared to mix with me and making friends was impossible. The matron at the school was loving and I took my medication at the dispensary under her strict supervision. I became a strong girl; anyone asking why I was at the dispensary everyday got a clear message: ‘I have HIV and I need to take my medication’. 

I looked forward to school holidays; Dr Buggiana would send a truck to pick me and my peers up. 

By the second year, stigma was melting at All Souls Mission. On completing secondary education, I permanently moved back home with tete. 

St Michaels Hospital took me up for counselling and training in handling stigma. 

I became a community health worker, more of a foot soldier, attending meetings and sensitising neighbours. 

Mhondoro is one community that became stigma-free early around 2007, with many having commenced ARV treatment by 2003. 

My hero and ‘father’ from the community, Mr Richman Rangwani of Simbarashe Network in Mhondoro, set up a centre and orphans who had missed school were enrolled in 2012. 

The centre has won Best Practice and Centre of Excellence Awards for 2013 from the National AIDS Council.

Today, I am a voluntary peer educator for Pan-African Positive Women’s Coalition Zim chapter (PAPWC-Zim). 

Although we work because we love our community, a little remuneration to replace worn out shoes, a bicycle and basics would make our work easier.

Everyone must know his/her HIV status. 

With TB and HIV having a strong relation, the co-infection remains a challenge. Seventy percent of people diagnosed with TB test positive to HIV.

TB is caused by a bacterium called mycoplasma tuberculosis. It is spread when a person with active TB coughs or sneezes and someone inhales the expelled droplets which contain the TB bacteria.

Knowing your HIV status is the link to regaining health. TB, which can lead to premature death is curable, unlike HIV which is only suppressed. 

The future of HIV hinges on prevention, with scientists working flat out on a vaccine.

Compiled by Catherine Murombedzi

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