Comment: Youth need to stand up and do something to stop TB

By Kiara Govender

According to the World Health Organization, 9 million people are infected with Tuberculosis (TB) annually. One third of them are from Africa and 15% are children.

On Saturday 24 March, I attended a TB awareness event at the KDC West Gold Fields Mine aimed at addressing some of these issues. "STOP TB in my lifetime" was the theme that echoed throughout the event.

In his speech, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe emphasized an attempt to, "curb the rate of new infections" by the government. He explained that this would be done through, "providing a comprehensive school health programme for our learners".

According to Dr Yogan Pillay, Deputy Director General in the Ministry of Health, "TB attacks the most vulnerable children". The health programme therefore consists of "taking mobile clinics to schools," he says. The Ministry of Health is also working with researchers from the Desmond Tutu TB centre and the University of Stellenbosch to, "figure out how to strengthen our programme for children".

Wena Moelich is an inspirational woman dedicated to the battle against TB in South Africa and the National Project Manager for the Kick TB campaign, which was launched in Cancun Mexico at the 40th World TB conference.

The first phase of the campaign focuses on primary school learners. "We go to schools with our Kick TB soccer balls and every child gets one of these soccer balls with TB messaging on everyone" shares Moelich. "We are making little ambassadors, TB ambassadors of the children, so they go home with their soccer balls and go and inform their parents, siblings and their community. They are going to spread the TB message for us".

Moelich describes the programme, as her "brainchild". She worked on this dream of hers for a year before the World Cup came to SA. "I realised that if you have a huge international event like The FIFA World Cup coming to your country, you’ve got to relate your health messaging through the event."

One of the challenges affecting the management of TB is the stigma attached to the disease.

"Stigma and discrimination have a negative impact on our efforts to expand health services. Human rights violations still occur in spite of the knowledge and services available to our people" said the deputy president.

Motlanthe acknowledged that, "more needs to be done to ensure that the rights of those living with HIV and TB are respected".

According to Pillay, "there shouldn’t be so much stigma because TB has been around since antiquity." He adds that, "the ease of transmission" is what causes people to discriminate as they are scared.

Moelich suggests that educating people is the answer to de-stigmatising our nation. "Nelson Mandela had TB, how can anyone co notate the word stigma to Nelson Mandela?" she asks.

"Today is about awareness and showing the people and the public that we care and that we are doing something to try and help", said Moelich.

She urges the youth, "Get up and do something! Get your hands dirty! If you can reach one person today, it’s one more that you would’ve reached yesterday!"

*Kiara Govender is a 14-year-old pupil at Parktown High School for Girls. This article is republished courtesy of Media Monitoring Africa’s Children’s News Agency.