What to Know About Tuberculosis in Somalia
Tuberculosis is a disease caused by bacteria that spreads through the air. While it can also be spread through the consumption of unpasteurized milk contaminated with the bacteria, the most prevalent form of the TB infection is pulmonary TB. In rare cases, TB can also affect the lymphatic system, central nervous system, urogenital region, joints and bones.
In Somalia, one of the world’s most poverty-stricken nations, less than half of estimated cases of TB are detected. Not all tuberculosis strains are equal, making diagnosis and treatment more difficult. While antibiotics typically treat TB, studies have shown that the prevalence of drug-resistant TB has increased. Somalia has a recent history of a tumultuous political climate, exacerbating obstacles that might prevent the delivery of efficient healthcare, like fund allocation and accessibility.
In a cultural profile of Somalia conducted in 2006, many believed the disease was spread through airborne particles resulting from coughing or sneezing. These same people often believed that the contraction of TB also comes from a variety of things including it being inherited or the result of a loss of faith, creating stigmas around the disease.
Many people distinguished TB from other ailments with respiratory symptoms through weight loss and the presence of blood in the mucus. Until these symptoms are found in addition to an existing cough, it is assumed to be a chest infection. In cases when a fever is apparent, some confuse TB with malaria.
While the primary symptoms (cough, weight loss and bloody mucus) follow the same way the west symptomatically views TB, Somalians understand the progression of symptoms and the disease a little differently. For example, they separate coughing as a symptom into different phases based on the nature of the cough. They focus on whether or not chest pains accompany a cough, or how it sounds. Based on what phase the symptom is in, it might dictate different treatment plans.
As of 2011, 5% of first-time infected tuberculosis patients had a drug-resistant strain of TB. In comparison, 41% of previously infected patients had this more robust form of TB. These strains are resistant to several drugs used in the treatment of TB. This resulted in the highest recorded instances of multidrug-resistant TB in Africa at the time.
World Vision is a global poverty mitigating initiative with boots-on-the-ground efforts. The organization provides healthcare resources, clean water and education to impoverished communities around the world.
Partnering with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the organization has created 33 tuberculosis grants valued at a total of $160.6 million. World Vision has been the primary recipient of tuberculosis grants in Somalia.
In Somalia, World Vision works to fight the frequency of tuberculosis and its drug resistance. With the help of the Global Fund, the organization has treated more than 115,000 people. Additionally, it has trained 132 health professionals in DOTS, the directly observed treatment, short course, as recommended by the WHO. The organization has also helped 30 laboratories with TB microscopy, which resulted in the national health authority documenting 6,505 cases. World Vision continues to strive to strengthen resources within Somalia so that the government and community have a better capacity in which to deal with TB.
– Catherine Lin