Tuberculosis in the Sacred Valley

According to the World Health Organization and Partners in Health, the prevalence of tuberculosis (TB) in Peru is 106 per 100,000, which makes about 31,800 current cases in Peru in a population of nearly 30,000,000. And startlingly, TB is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent.

Tuberculosis often goes undiagnosed and untreated because health workers are not educated to recognize the signs and symptoms of TB in adults and children. Additionally, it is very contagious, but, in many cases, very treatable. All of this makes it a perfect topic to cover with our health promoters and for them to share with their communities.

At a recent health campaign, we saw a very ill man who came to us for evaluation. We walked with him to the local health post, and were later informed by a health post nurse that he had TB in his sputum. Some of the community coordinators hear about people with TB symptoms and encourage them to visit the health post for evaluation, but we are unsure of the actual incidence and prevalence of TB in our communities.

Through talking with our health promoters and Leticia, our Peruvian nurse, we learned that there exists a stigma for people that are diagnosed with TB. Because of that, many people will not get tested because they are scared of what having TB will mean for them not only in terms of health, but also in terms of reputation. In addition to this stigma, some will start treatment but do not know that they need to finish it, increasing the spread of MDR-TB (multidrug-resistant TB).

Leticia explains to the health promoters the importance of identifying symptoms of tuberculosis in their communities.
SVH Head Nurse Leticia explains in Quechua to the health promoters the importance of identifying symptoms of tuberculosis in their communities.

At a recent training, we reviewed common signs and symptoms of TB, the importance of helping/reminding someone diagnosed with TB to finish his or her treatment to prevent MDR-TB, and that anyone testing positive for TB should inform anyone who was recently near them that he or she should be tested for TB at the health post, as difficult as this conversation may be.

After we put masks on our wish list, we were very happy to receive donations of N95 masks from visiting Wayne State University medical students. These masks are used to protect people against airborne illnesses like TB and to prevent spread of TB in communities. We were able to provide at least two of these masks to each of our health promoters and explain how to use them to protect themselves and community members.

Nurse community coordinator Mary demonstrates proper use of the N95 mask for health promoters.
Nurse community coordinator Mary demonstrates proper use of the N95 mask for health promoters.

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Nurse community coordinator Mary explains why these N95 masks can help protect our health promoters and their community members. 

TB has been on our minds at SVH in the past, too. Check out our blog post in which we describe our collection of sputum samples in Yanamayo to bring the local health post for TB evaluation.

– Written by RN community coordinator Brooke Bachelor

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