A harsh, seemingly endless, debilitating cough. Sudden, drastic, energy-sapping weight loss.
The noticeable darkening of skin tone. All are the dreaded symptoms of Tuberculosis (TB) and can reduce once strong, healthy beings to quivering wrecks.
Sadly, it can also earn sufferers the scorn and derision of their workmates and friends.
Indeed, cruel snubs and humiliating nicknames are the mere tip of the stigmatic iceberg for the kind of bitter discrimination that TB patients regularly have to endure.
For many people TB represents a death sentence, fated to end in tragedy and despair.
Perversely, out of fear of being stigmatized, three million people worldwide suffer and die from the curable disease.
46-year-old Tanyala Dumelano, from Changate, was determined not to become one such statistic.
Her ardent zest for life and unwavering desire to lead a healthy life gave her the hope and strength to fight the contagious disease.
Recalling the moment she realized something was seriously wrong, Dumelano matter-of-factly said, “In July 2014 I started to cough continuously, though the cough was dry. I kept on coughing for weeks and noticed that I was also losing weight. I was worried but couldn’t understand or explain my sudden loss of body weight.”
“When I went to the clinic they checked my chest and took a sample of my sputum but found no sign of TB,” continued the mother of four.
Three months later, and showing no signs of recovery, Dumelano experienced a sharp, constant pain just below her right breast.
Franticly, she hurried back to Masego clinic to seek further medical help.
“My health was deteriorating. I always felt tired and wanted to sleep most of the time. I was not able to work as I used to because I was just too weak,” she recalled.
Dumelano was immediately sent to Jubilee hospital for an x-ray, where her worst fears were confirmed.
Exhibiting remarkable calmness, she said, “The doctor told me, the TB had eaten the bottom part of my right lung. I was at least relieved when the cause of my pain and loss of body weight had been found. I was admitted to Nyangabgwe hospital and started my treatment for TB on the 14th of October.”
As if having the disease was not enough, when Dumelano eventually returned to work, far from being supportive, her work colleagues shunned her for fear of being infected.
Remembering their cold, calculating discrimination, she continued, “No one wanted to be around me or even to work with me. My colleagues refused to touch anything that I was using and as result I found myself cleaning and doing other duties alone. The stigmatization got so bad that I ended up approaching my supervisor and requested that he labelled my mop and other cleaning utensils. This way no one would use the same utensils as me.”
Remarkably, despite her isolation, Dumelano remained positive, refusing to lose heart and never once considering stopping her TB treatment.
This could be explained, in part, by her family’s continued support, who have proved an instrumental source of comfort to Dumelano, as she explains, “My family have been very supportive from the word go. Never did they ever waiver. They love me for who I am. I have always remained the same daughter, sister and aunt to them.”
Happily, Dumelano, who resides in Block Five, is now well on the road to recovery, as she says, “Since I started the six month course of treatment, I have noticed a difference. I feel stronger and I’m back at work and able to carry out duties without any problems. No longer do I experience bouts of fatigue or have a dry cough. I work just like everyone else.”
With only a month left of her treatment, the inspirational mother has even spotted a change of heart in her colleagues’ attitudes, noting, “They now eat the food I bring with me, something which they would never have dreamed of before. I have told them no one desires to get TB or suffer from it. Anyone can get sick.”
Finishing with a warning, Dumelano stressed that if anyone exhibits signs of TB they should immediately get themselves checked-up.
She said, “Let all who suspect they have TB seek treatment at your nearest health post, clinic and get treated. Tuberculosis is curable, there’s no need to die from it.”