Ma Sein provide training about proper care and assistance onTB to patient and family member. She is among 12 self-help group members they regularly visit patient homes to remind them to take medicine and provide support.
A lack of health knowledge makes suffering from illness even worse.
Not long ago, the community of Nar Nat Taw, located in Kayah State in eastern Myanmar, many vulnerable families faced a life threatening disease: tuberculosis (TB).
Ma Sein’s mother has suffered from TB, but due to a lack of health knowledge, the disease was not identified or properly cured.
“I didn’t know about TB at all and we tried our best to cure my mother over three years. But it got worse. Half of my mother’s lungs were damaged by TB,” Ma Sein recalls.
In 2007, Ma Sein volunteered with World Vision, when the organisation helped form a community self-help group to address the lack of knowledge about TB. Through this training, Ma Sein learned the proper treatment for TB and helped her mother take medication. Finally, her mother was fully cured!
Since encountering her mother’s suffering, Ma Sein has been an active member of the self-help group, both as a volunteer for World Vision and a member of the group.
Ma Sein, 33, has a four-month-old son. Though she is not working right now, she is an active member of the TB Self-help group.
“I found a patient who had been improperly treating his TB for almost four yours. He lost weight and even gave up on his education due to his poor health condition. When I met him, he was so skinny and very weak. I connected him with the Township TB department to receive proper treatment. Within a couple of months, his condition improved and finally he was totally cured,” explains Ma Sein.“Now he is able to work. He even got married and started his family!”
Ma Sein recalls another story about a woman she met who had TB.
“Daw Aye Mu had been suffering from TB for a long time and hadn’t been aware of it. Access to medical care was very limited as she lived at the border of Kayah and Shan States. She later temporarily moved to our village to get treatment. Daw Aye Mu received medication but since she didn’t receive care support, she often failed to take the drugs and she developed Multi Drug Resistance. She was not aware of her condition and she felt and acted like a normal person. In reality the bacteria spread in the house and infected her husband, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.”
A lack of awareness, improper treatment and little nutritious food robbed the infected family’s lives. They all died of TB.
“When I met her in 2010, she said that she did not want her family members to die from this disease anymore,” Ma Sein recalls.
Daw Aye Mu later returned to her remote village at the border where there was no medical access. Due to lack of medicine, she finally died.
“She wouldn’t have died if she received a full course of medicine and proper care,” says Ma Sein.
Ma Sein is trained and equipped with health knowledge. She is among 12 self-help group members who visit the village and look for suspected TB cases. They regularly visit patient homes to remind them to take medicine and provide support.
“When I first started as volunteer, I found one patient in almost every house in this village. In 2008 after the self-help group has formed, still 15 to 20 patients were found,” Ma Sein says.
“Fearing discrimination, the patients didn’t wear masks but still visited other homes. Bacteria spread this way,” Ma Sein comments.
“When a child is found to have contracted TB, we also check the parents. We always find that both parents are also positive. As a child’s immunity is weaker, the symptoms show up in a child earlier than the adults,” Ma Sein explains.
“Before, there was no knowledge about TB. Even though the villagers suffered prolonged coughing for over one month, they perceived that it was a normal coughing. They just used a traditional way of curing it like eating baked ginger. And even if they suspected that it was TB, they didn’t know where to get help,” Ma Sein recalls.
“We provide awareness to the community on TB and closely monitor the patients. Within five years, the prevalence has now significantly dropped,” Ma Sein proudly says. “The community members know we are here to help them.”
“There are people from the nearby villages moving here to get help. Those people can bring in TB any time. I think, that is the reason why the prevalence is still remaining in the community,” says Ma Naw, a World Vision staff member.
This is one of the challenges that the self-help group faces, but they won’t give up.
Aiming for sustainability, World Vision provided the group with vocational training such as snack making and knitting. World Vision also provided pigs for the members as part of livelihood support program.
“We all agreed to return the money to the group to set up the group fund. The members also save 3,000 ks [3.10 US dollars] per month and now we have already established a group fund. Members can get loans from the group that has much less interest,” says Ma Sein.
“With our fund, we support poor patients such as paying for the cost for X-rays and also nutritious foods,” Ma Sein smiles.
The community that once faced this life threatening disease is now safer in the hands of Ma Sein and the self-help group.