Leading health NGOs urge people to support Kenyan TB patients on World TB Day

Leading civil society organisations in Kenya are asking people to wear surgical masks on the eve of World TB Day<23 March> to show support for the estimated 150,000 TB patients in Kenya.

KELIN – the organisation promoting health and human rights – developed the idea after working on the case of Mrs X, an extensively drug resistant (XDR) TB patient who had been refused access to free TB medicine. Mrs X and her family have to wear masks all the time to prevent the spread of TB – making it a particularly stigmatizing condition. By encouraging as many people as possible to wear masks in public, civil society organisations are hoping to raise awareness of TB issues in Kenya and persuade the government to take more action on the illness.

KELIN, and other civil society organistions including KANCO, KEHPCA, WOFAK, NEPHAK and Medical Care Development Inputs (MCDI), are using the run-up to World TB Day<marked on March 24>as a platform to demand that the Kenyan Government takes urgent action on TB, by:

  • developing a clear policy on how to detect and manage patients with XDR-TB to prevent more cases like Mrs X
  • acknowledging the right to health by improving standards of care for all TB patients, allowing them access to free medicine
  • allocatingmore resource to Kenya’s health budget, to reduce the reliance on development agencies in the fight against TB – currently around 30 percent of Kenya’s drug resistant Tuberculosis patients are treated by NGOs
  • completing the isolation ward at Kenyatta Hospital that has been under construction since 2005. The isolation ward will provide somewhere for safe treatment for drug resistant TB patients – when necessary.

Speaking about the action of wearing masks to mark World TB Day, KELIN’s Coordinator, Allan Maleche, said:

“Living with TB can be very difficult, especially if you have multi or extensively drug resistant strains of the illness.

“We want people to get a glimpse of what it is like to have TB by wearing a surgical mask on 23 March – the day before World TB Day. Please wear the mask on public transport, in the street and at work. Let us know what your experiences are and how people react to you – this is about raising awareness about TB in Kenya.”

The management of TB has also been pushed up the world agenda recently. Last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon wrote to President Kibaki, urging Kenya to increase resources to stop TB.