Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the developing world’s biggest killers, with 9.4 million new cases and 1.7 million deaths each year. Swaziland, also, has one of the highest rates of TB and multi-drug resistant TB worldwide. 80%% of people in Swaziland who contract TB are also HIV-positive.
Tholaleke, 39, has drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) and stated treatment in May 2016 at the Moneni National TB Hospital, supported by MSF in central Swaziland. It was while receiving injections that she suffered from severe leg pains, which affected her ability to walk, that made her thankful that she could receive at-home treatment. However, because she lived alone and did not have anyone to help look after her, she was admitted to Moneni Hospital in November for two months.
For many DR-TB patients like Tholaleke, treatment is a long and grueling 2-year journey, taking multiple tablets and injections in some cases, treatment can last longer if the patient doesn’t respond to treatment. Side-effects include deafness, liver or kidney toxicity, and even psychosis. These effects often force patients to give up their jobs while on treatment. In countries like Swaziland, TB patients are often more likely to succumb to poverty more than the disease itself.
In hopes of helping patients who have gone deaf, 11 DR-TB patients and 30 MSF staff members recently completed sign language training.
Becoming deaf and not knowing sign language sometimes forces patients to isolate themselves from their families, due to inability to communicate. By empowering them with the skill of sign language, MSF staff in Swaziland hopes to reintegrate them into society.
“Your thinking is so orderly. Clinical. Which I guess makes sense, because you’re a doctor, but it’s- it’s uncomfortable.”
“Well, I feel like I should apologize. That sounds very unpleasant.”
“It’s not all bad. I mean, I can tell that there’s a lot going on
underneath the surface. That you’re caring. I can’t hear them, but some
of your thoughts - your more distant thoughts - they’re warm. Comforting.”