My Eight Year Battle with TB

Thank God it’s TB! - My eight year battle with TB

30 January 2017, Nairobi, Kenya - His outgoing nature and contagious laughter tell nothing about his 14-year battle with tuberculosis (TB). They are instead typical of the modernday deejay he is, keen on keeping his fans entertained and keeping up with the demands of the competitive entertainment world in Nairobi.

Born in Kisauni Mombasa, Eliud Chichi enjoyed a healthy childhood and has fond memories of growing up at the Kenyan coast. He cherishes memories of his diving escapades as a child and as a teenager. By his own description, his breathing was as perfect as can be. Perhaps this is what made him a popular diver among his peers. Chichi attended Mvita Primary School, Kenyatta Secondary School in Voi and later joined the Mombasa Polytechnic to study mechanical engineering, but his love for music started at a very tender age. He enjoyed singing in church and he confidently says that he was the best vocalist in his church choir.

But in 1992, things changed, Chichi started coughing and sought medical care at several private facilities. He was treated for what the doctors thought was pneumonia and allergy. Chichi however continued to suffer from chest pains and a persistent cough and as days turned into months and years, Chichi’s health continued to deteriorate. For seven years, Chichi was assumed to be suffering from either pneumonia or allergies. Even though he presented symptoms of TB on and off, he was never tested for TB.

Chichi’s family and friends suggested to him that he seeks medical care at Portreitz hospital, which he finally did in 1997. An X-ray confirmed that he had TB. To any other person, the news of being diagnosed with TB would be shocking and possibly devastating, but to Chichi this was good news! It was a relief for him, because for years he had suffered without knowing what the problem was exactly. “I was happy. I knew that I would get well now, because I had found out what was ailing me and now there was hope,” says a composed Chichi. At the time of diagnosis, however, he did not know the magnitude of the trying journey that he had just begun.

He was put on medication, comprising of daily injections for 2 months and oral drugs for 8 months. The medication helped with the coughing, but after some time, it exploded again and this time round, it was way more violent. Chichi was put on several sets of TB treatment but his health was on a continuous downward trend. In 2001, he had to quit his job in deejaying and organizing events because he was too sick to leave his bed. It was not until 2005, when he went to Moi hospital in Voi, that he was found to have multidrugresistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). Unfortunately, the hospital did not have the facilities to treat MDRTB. In fact, only two hospitals in Kenya were equipped to treat MDR-TB at the time; the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) in Nairobi and the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret.

Chichi’s health worsened by the day and his weight came down from 67kg to 37kgs! He spent about Ksh 12,000 (115 USD) on treatment every week. This depleted his savings and took a toll on his family. His bad health meant that he could no longer engage in any meaningful economic activity. Chichi had to find a way of accessing treatment at KNH, one of the two hospitals that were offering MDR-TB treatment in the country, but there were stringent conditions for patients who were seeking treatment for MDR-TB at KNH. A patient would need to present a letter from the local chief, have at least Ksh 150 000 (1442 USD) in their bank account and prove that they could sustain themselves in Nairobi during the entire period of treatment. Chichi who had since moved in with his brother in Nairobi, details how difficult it was for him to get a letter from the area chief. Walking uphill to the chief’s office was very wearisome for the frail Chichi. When he finally got to the office, the chief asked him to bring his landlord because the chief did not know him or his brother.

With the help of friends and civil society, Chichi managed to secure a slot for MDR-TB treatment at KNH. However, he had to do another test to confirm that he was indeed suffering from MDR-TB. This confirmation test could only be done in Australia and Chichi had to wait for nine long months for the results to come back. When the results confirmed that Chichi had MDR-TB, he was put on treatment at KNH. During this fouryear long treatment period, Chichi faced many challenges. He had to go to the hospital daily, sometimes even on foot, because the hospital did not have an isolation ward back then. The treatment caused very extreme side effects. He experienced heartburns, chest pains, fatigue and even blackouts. He explains how once he blacked out and collapsed on his way home from the hospital, causing a huge traffic snarl up. “I cannot even put it in words, I cannot explain it, because only my body knows how taking those drugs felt like, “says an emotional Chichi. Chichi’s body was responding very slowly to the treatment, but the desire to get well and be able to do the things he loves, made him fight on. He says that he had a good support system from through friends and civil society organizations. At one point, his health became so bad that he needed to be admitted. Because the hospital did not have an MDR-TB ward and the medical staff did not want to risk transmitting the disease to other patients, Chichi was housed in a store in the hospital. He received treatment there until, with the intervention of the civil society organizations he was in touch with, he was moved to a better place and later was discharged from hospital.

Chichi was finally declared TB free in 2004, after a brave and spirited 14-year battle with the disease. He is grateful to have successfully sailed through that murky journey, but he still bears the scars of his battle with TB. One of his lungs collapsed, while the other one only functions at 47 percent. He still runs out of breath and gets chest pains, but even with all this, he is grateful for every breath he takes.

Today, Chichi has become a TB ambassador and uses every opportunity to sensitize people about TB. He recommends that people get screened and tested for TB. He also says that Kenya has made tremendous progress in the fight against TB, pointing out the adoption of GeneXpert as the first-line test for TB, rehabilitation of TB clinics and the introduction of child-friendly drugs. Chichi however admits that there is a lot more that can be done and that there is need for everyone to do more to end TB.