My father celebrated his 51st birthday on March 11, 2003. Three days after his birthday, he lost his battle against multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). That day, I, who was also fighting for my life against the same disease, became fatherless… and totally orphan.
Seeing him dying from another massive hemoptysis bout, coughing up blood, while we were on our way to the hospital was something I would never forget. It was as if what was soon coming to me was being unfolded.
Twelve years after, I have successfully recovered from two bouts of extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), became a TB advocate while currently working as an accountant in an international NGO that strengthens systems for TB pharmaceuticals and services accessibility, and is happily married to Stuart who was my former TB nurse.
Twelve years after, I am now living a life that I have always dreamed of but without my father. The pain of losing my father from this curable disease still remains. Until now I get envious whenever I see a father and daughter together, talking, laughing, and smiling at each other. A lot of times it made me cry.
This photo was taken March 1998 during my Citizen's Army Training graduation in my last year in high school. That was taken inside the campus. We were both TB free back then. I treasure that photo because that was our last photo together while receiving my achievement in school. Though he was with me when I had my oath taking ceremony in Nov 2002 when I passed the CPA board exam, we didn't have a photo together because he decided to stay outside the venue because of his bad cough. He even had a hemoptysis attack that same day.
Often, I was thinking what if MDR-TB treatment during that time was more common and accessible. What if my father was given that chance to be treated correctly? Perhaps, he is still with us today. Perhaps he was able to march all three of us, his daughters, down the aisle when we got married. Perhaps he’s enjoying his time playing with his grandchildren. Perhaps, he would teach me how to drive while I would introduce him to social media, teach him how to create a facebook account, and buy him a smart phone so we could take selfies. I will buy him his favorite food and whatever it is that he would request. We could have built many happy memories.
If I’ve been into that much sorrow and regret in losing my father, what more those children who stopped schooling because TB had stricken their family and could no longer support their education or worse they needed to drop out from school to assume the responsibilities left by their mothers and fathers; they needed to rear their younger siblings or work and provide for the needs of the family.
These children could have had a better future if they had finished school, giving them better chances of creating improved lives for their own spouses and children. You see, tuberculosis is like a double jab combination, hitting not just one generation in a family. It drives poor families into much deeper poverty and its socio-economic effects, if not irreversible, are long-lasting.
Twelve years after, TB is still one of the diseases that had taken so many lives and so many dreams. An ancient disease which is totally curable within six months has transformed into a more life-threatening disease, taking more lives, causing greater grief for the bereaved family members of TB patients, and still pouring out many tears for being stigmatized by the society.
March 24 is World TB day. This is a good time to look back on how far we have progressed in our collective efforts to battle tuberculosis and how far we need to go to achieve the bold dream of eliminating TB by 2035. With the emergence of XDR-TB in many counties including the Philippines, we have no time to be complacent.
Our actions should be highly accelerated to keep pace with tuberculosis and its injury that is doing in our society. Closing the disparity between the public and private health sectors in providing quality TB diagnostics and healthcare to ensure that patients will be managed properly, whatever options they take could create high impact results in tuberculosis prevention and care. Strengthening political commitment of the private sector would contribute in abating the long-overdue incidences of tuberculosis in the country by making tuberculosis treatment accessible to people affected by TB.
A dialogue with top businessmen and private corporations in the country to present our current TB situation and convince them to become actively involved in investing to philanthropic missions for the improvement of diagnostics and treatment of tuberculosis in the country will support the government’s effort in sustaining the TB program domestically. Urging these private corporations to include as part of their social corporate responsibility, social, educational, and economic programs intended for individuals affected by TB would not just support these patients and their families in meeting their basic needs but it would empower them to take control and rebuild their lives despite the disease.
As we commemorate this year’s World TB Day, may we never forget the sufferings that tuberculosis brought to the patients, families, and communities affected by TB all over the world. May the fact that tuberculosis is curable be a fresh ray of light that will bring inspiration to every one of us not to lose hope, not to lose focus, and to renew our commitment in defeating TB.