Stopping TB: Everyone’s Responsibility


By Rachel C. Orduno, Border TB PhotoVoice Participant

Recently, on March 24, 2008 — World TB Day — health activists around the globe spread the message “I am stopping TB . . . and so can you.” As a tuberculosis survivor, I am living proof that TB is preventable, treatable, and curable.

According to the World Health Organization, one-third of the Earth’s population is infected with this contagious disease and is at risk for developing active TB. Left untreated, TB can be fatal. It is a worldwide epidemic that knows no borders. Anyone breathing can be infected.

At 35, I was diagnosed with diabetes. Within a year, my latent TB infection developed into the active disease. Susceptibility to TB is higher with diabetes, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, smoking and other addictions, malnourishment, and pregnancy.

For three agonizing years, I was misdiagnosed with flu, colds, allergies, respiratory infections, pneumonia, and asthma. My 3-year-old niece also suffered through surgeries to remove a recurring cyst. Only after I was correctly diagnosed, was her removed tissue tested and found positive for TB. We both started the daily medication treatment for active TB disease and five other family members took the preventive, twice-weekly dosing to neutralize the infection.

Once diagnosed, I started the emotional ride on the TB roller coaster of ups and downs. I was glad to identify my affliction, but was fearful of the stigma and discrimination I could face.

I was promised recovery with a full course of treatment. But that’s not always easy when jobs and life’s daily demands take priority. It’s not long before your life-saving medication becomes a daily intrusion. However, interrupting treatment increases drug-resistance and furthers TB infections.

My victory over TB empowered me to fight the spread of TB. I will not be silent or anonymous. I will not be dormant — like my TB infection was. I will speak out on behalf of the 9 million men, women, and children who are newly diagnosed and the nearly 2 million lives lost in 2006. I am spreading the word and not the disease.

Thanks to the Border TB PhotoVoice Project and Eva Moya of the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Association, I found a vehicle for change. The power of photography helped me and 15 other El Paso-Juarez region TB survivors to convey our many TB challenges. Thousands have viewed this gallery internationally.

One powerful photo was my mask burning after three months of quarantine. It symbolizes freedom, not only from feeling ostracized and physically ill, but from the ignorance that held me hostage. I stopped feeling like a victim and started taking action.

So what can you do to stop TB? Be an advocate. Demand consistent and accurate media coverage of TB. Request that public officials increase funding for TB treatment and prevention. Show compassion to those affected by TB. Fight the disease by educating yourself and others. Learn the facts at your local health center.

For information about the Border TB PhotoVoice Project and other TB PhotoVoice Projects around the world, explore: www. tbphotovoice.org

For information about the United States-Mexico Border Health Association, explore: http://www.usmbha.org

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