TB Patients testimonies from MSF’s Galcayo Hospital
It’s 6am, and outside the Galcayo South hospital, the sun is already beating down. Here inside in the shade, patients have begun to stir and move about. Some are old, some are young; some can barely walk, while others look the picture of health; some have travelled a few miles to get here, others have walked for days.
What they all have in common, however, is tuberculosis. Each of them has the disease, and each of them is undergoing free treatment for it is here at the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital. Since 2005, Médecins Sans Frontières, the international emergency medical organisation, has been treating patients with tuberculosis in 6 hospitals and centres throughout Somalia. In 2010 alone, MSF treated over 699 Somalis infected with the disease in the two hospitals it runs in Galcayo South and Galcayo North, and another 151 elsewhere in the country.
“TB is a massive problem here in Somalia,” says HoM Karin Fischer Liddle . “We are seeing people travelling hundreds of kilometres to get to us because they have heard about the free treatment we are providing. Numbers are increasing all the time.”
Patients who arrive at the MSF hospitals are tested for the disease and, if positive, are invited to begin treatment immediately. The treatment programme is intense. Patients are required to stay in accommodation near the hospital for six months if they are coming from far away and have no relatives in town and, due to the infectious nature of the disease, are only allowed to have one family member or friend with them to act as a caretaker.
“Spending six months away from home is very difficult for some patients,” says Karin, “but we strongly encourage people to stick with the programme, as leaving midway through can result in them developing drug-resistant tuberculosis, which we cannot treat in Somalia at the moment. So far, few patients have left early.”
For each first-time patient, the treatment routine for tuberculosis is the same. For the first two months of treatment, patients take two to four tablets a day, depending on their weight, which contains four drugs that fight the disease. For the final four months, patients are required to take two drugs a day.
Each patient is provided with free accommodation and food, and those who are malnourished receive special nutritional supplements. The treatment results have been impressive. MSF treats patients with tuberculosis all over the world, but the Galcayo South and Galcayo North hospitals have proved to be the places where MSF have achieved very good results for adhering to treatment and overcoming the disease.
“It’s very exciting that we’re able to treat so many people with TB in Somalia, even in conditions that are very difficult” says Karin. “We only have ten medical staff members working in the TB wards in the two hospitals in Galcayo North and Galcayo South, but that has not prevented us from providing large-scale TB treatment.”However, what is most rewarding is seeing people cured of the disease and eager to tell others about the free medical services provided by MSF. “People are so grateful for being made well,” says Karin. “They always tell us they’re going to urge family members and neighbours to come for treatment.
“It’s a privilege to see.”
1)Dahabo Mohammed, 55, is from Gurele in Somalia.
“I was at home about a month ago when I began to feel very sick and weak,” she says. “I developed chest pains and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. People told me that I might have tuberculosis. It was then that I found about the MSF hospital in Galcayo South.”
Dahabo has been undergoing treatment at the tuberculosis ward for only a few weeks and is being looked after by one of her daughters. “I have very good children and I am pleased that my daughter is with me,” she says, “but I do feel that I am a long way from home. I’m very happy that I’m being treated, but I’m looking forward to getting better and going home.”
2) Abdullah Abdi, 50, comes from Galinsor, 90 kilometres south of Galcayo. He was admitted to the Galcayo South hospital three months ago after he began to vomit blood.
“Initially, I came to the hospital not because I was feeling sick, but because I was carrying a sick relative who, unfortunately, died shortly after we arrived,” he says. “I was very sad and was feeling very sick myself, so I decided to get checked. I tested positive for tuberculosis and it was not long after that that I began treatment.”
Abdullah is divorced and has two sons and two daughters, the oldest of which lives in Nairobi where she is looking for work. “I miss my dear daughter very much,” he sighs. “I worry about her being in such a big city and I try to call her on the telephone as much as I can.”
Abdullah is now a herder, but at one time he was a decorated officer with the central government. “I often think back to the time when Somalia was a stable and unified country,” he says. “Back then, the community and families would take care of people who fell sick. Today, there are so many hardships such as severe droughts and conflict hardly anyone is able to afford to take care of one another. It is sad.”
3-4) 35-year old Habibo Ali was brought to the Galcayo South hospital by family members after developing severe pains in the right side of her chest.
“I come from Dure, which is a small village about four hours drive from here on a dirt road,” she says. “The day we came was a very long and painful journey. It was such a relief to arrive and know that I could begin to get better.”Habibo has been undergoing treatment for two months and has another four months left before her treatment will be complete. “I have five children, but they’re too young to make the long journey to see me. I miss them very much and it’s hard fighting this disease without my family with me. But I know it won’t be long before I embrace them again. Thinking about that keeps me going.”
5 -6)Mohamed Saha is from Bud Bud, a village more than 100km east of Galcayo South.
“I’m 70 years old and have worked hard all my life, but I knew something was wrong when I developed severe back pain and then slowly lost the use of my legs,” he says.Mohamed has undergone TB treatment for three months and his condition is improving.“I have three sons and four daughters and I used to be a herder,” he says. “But I had to give that up after I lost over 70 camels to an infectious disease. To make ends meet I work as a porter, but I miss the days when I used to have my camels. It was a good time.
“Knowing that I’m getting better day by day fills me with joy. I’m looking forward to the day when I can return home to my dear family.”