Most medical students and practitioners agree that when consulting with patients for any disease, they focus mostly on the patient and not themselves as being at risk. And yet, through some of the stories shared at the PEPFAR-supported SA TB conference 2014, it is evident that nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers are at the top of the high-risk groups when it comes to communicable diseases like tuberculosis (TB).
Dr. Dalene Von Delft, who was part of the over 1,000 participants at the Durban June 10-13 conference, is one such medical practitioner. She couldn’t believe it when on Christmas Eve 2010, she was diagnosed with multi drug-resistant (MDR-TB) after years of service.
“It was a hard time; I had caught the TB strain that was resistant to treatment. I had to be quarantined for a while and had to wear a mask at all times, at home and even when going to the shops. Worse, I had to deal with the reality that the available TB drugs had severe side-effects such as causing partial hearing loss or complete deafness. I had to choose between going deaf and dying.”
Dr. Dalene chose to live, even at the risk of going deaf and therefore never being able to use a stethoscope again. After all, soldiering on by starting and completing medication is what she had been teaching her patients all these years.
“I considered myself lucky though, firstly because in my family, we had a member who had survived TB so that gave me hope and support and secondly because being doctor meant I had access to new information about new drugs that could help me. In the end, I regained my health with the help of these new drugs and completed my treatment after 18 months.”
Dr. Dalene, with the help of her husband and family now advocate for TB patients through the TB PROOF advocacy initiative which they founded with students. “TB PROOF” emphasizes three key elements:
- 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.
- To de-stigmatize and prioritize occupational TB by collecting and disclosing proof of an alarming rise in cases.
- 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.
“Our TB PROOF sessions are changing people’s attitudes and behaviors towards TB. Sharing our own stories breaks down the stigma, and encourages an ever-increasing number of health care workers and students to share their own experiences of TB”, says Dr. Dalene.