Tuberculosis | Background

Damien Foundation Nigeria


Tuberculosis, a poor person’s disease

The Harmattan, a dry wind which blows in from the Sahara, has left a golden yellow dusting over the corrugated roofing, and in the shimmering midday sun the city of Ibadan appears cast though a retro-filter. The rusty old colonial houses, with their finely wrought iron balustrades, flower motifs and elegant outdoor staircases, speak of a faded but once breathtaking beauty.
So much for the romance.
Damien Foundation in Nigeria fights against tuberculosis. Stories of patients and medical staff. Today Ibadan, West Africa's biggest city, is an open sewer in places. Rivers have become dumping grounds for waste and a source of income for people in search of anything they can use. Stray from the beaten track and before long you will come across slums, where families crowd into tiny rooms, hygiene is a minor consideration and finding food for the family is a day-to-day challenge. In Nigeria, 46% of the population live below the poverty line.

It is in one of these slums that we meet 13-year-old Waris. He is small for his age and the infection on his scalp is a sign of malnutrition. Waris’s immune system is not as strong as it could be, and when he came into contact with the tuberculosis bacteria it quickly gained the upper hand. “Just ten percent of the people who come into contact with the highly contagious tuberculosis bacillus go on to develop the disease. The weaker your body, the greater the chances of this happening”, says Doctor Osman, Director of Damien Foundation Nigeria.

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection which spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is hardly surprising, then, that the disease is more prevalent in overcrowded slums, where whole families may be living in a single room. Papoola, the tailor, for example, caught the disease from his father, with whom he was living at the time. He now lives in a single room with his wife and children and is afraid of infecting his family, but Damien Foundation has taught him to ventilate his house. They gave him tips on how to prevent infection, but Papoola is actually an exception to the rule. Few people in the slums are aware of what tuberculosis is, and most know absolutely nothing about how to protect themselves against it.

It is patently obvious that tuberculosis is a disease of poverty and one with the added disadvantage of pushing patients deeper into poverty. It can take many months for patients to recover. During this time they are unable to work and can lose their income. Papoola, the tailor, has been told that he is now in the clear, but his family is finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet. “I had my own shop, but I had to sell everything just to give us some money when I was sick. I lost it all: my sewing machine, my fabrics, my shop. I will have to start all over again.”

Tuberculosis patient

A successful treatment against tuberculosis (TB)

TEXTS: Wendy Huyghe
PHOTOS: Tim Dirven @T.Dirven for Damien Foundation

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