A Mother’s Wish Fulfilled: Rolling Out TB Contact Investigation in Rural Oromia, Ethiopia
Aster Gemede lost her husband to tuberculosis (TB) meningitis early in 2012. Struck with grief, Gemede did not notice her own deteriorating health in the months after his death. Cough, fever, chest pain, and loss of appetite became part of her everyday life. She hardly noticed she was losing weight. When Gemede got to the point where she was unable to look after her two children, she was forced to walk eight hours from her home in rural Borena zone, Oromia, Ethiopia, to the nearest health facility.
That facility could not diagnose Gemede, so they referred her to Dilla district referral hospital, where she was diagnosed with TB. Immediately, Gemede was linked to the Guangua health center, where she was put on TB treatment in December 2013.
“Knowing the cause of my husband’s death, I was really frustrated and was really depressed thinking about my kids’ future. Why is God punishing us like this? Am I going to die like my husband?” Gemede remembered thinking while waiting for counseling at the health center. “I was crying; and I was disappointed in life itself.”
Sister Alemtsehay, the Guangua facility’s TB focal person, remembers the day Gemede came to her for counseling. “Aster was really depressed and she imagined that she would not survive this ‘curse’ that killed her husband. However, through counseling, I was able to convince Aster to change her attitude.”
Alemtsehay is one of the health care providers trained by the US Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Help Ethiopia Address Low TB Performance (HEAL TB) project, led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), to screen, treat, and counsel clients.
“From the trainings and mentorship we received from HEAL TB, we are aware that when a symptomatic patient is in a house, children are at higher risk of contracting diseases,” said Alemtsehay. She tested all of Gemede’s family members for TB. Gemede’s daughter, 18-month-old Lemlem, was also diagnosed with TB and began receiving treatment and nutritional supplements immediately.
HEAL TB has improved health workers’ ability to identify and treat TB patients and has been a change engine in tracing TB contacts in the Oromia and Amhara regions since the project’s launch in 2011.
Both Gemede and Lemlem, after six months of treatment, are cured. Gemede said:
This is a mother’s wish, to see your child get better. I thank the health worker for making sure we are looked after. My family and I are forever grateful.