The start of Johnny’s chronic disease coincided with the marital fireworks, which followed his wife’s discovery that he had been spending part of his meagre income on a young woman he had secretly married.
Ataa’s bitterness and animosity towards Johnny became so intense that he began to suspect that she was behind his sudden bouts of sicknesses.
Indeed, six months after the doctors, pastors and herbalists in Accra failed to heal him after his many visits to them, he sealed his verdict against Ataa, after all, she had always been the unforgiving type.
Johnny, therefore, visited his brother in his village to aid him seek help at a ‘powerful shrine’. But three months after all sorts of consultations and concoctions proved futile, Johnny became paralysed and his brother rushed him to Cape Coast Teaching Hospital (CCTH).
After series of tests, Dr Elizabeth Tabitha Botchway, a medical doctor at the Tuberculosis Unit, diagnosed Johnny as suffering from TB, which had affected his spine.
Dr Botchway explains that there are two types of clinical manifestation of TB. The Pulmonary and External Pulmonary TB.
The Pulmonary TB is contagious and infectious and it attacks the lungs, while the External Pulmonary TB also generally affects the lungs.
However, it could also affect other parts of the body, including the spine, bones, skin, eyes, scrotum and even the brain. TB can also affect animals.
Research has shown that Research has shown that External Pulmonary TB can result in hunchback or spinal pain, infertility in both men and women and meningitis.
Dr Botchway, however, says most External Pulmonary TB infections do not have symptoms, therefore, for diagnosis; one has to be taken through a highly sensitive laboratory investigation known as the Gene Xpert. This kind of TB is not transferable.
People with low immunity, diabetic and HIV patients, pregnant women and the aged are at a higher risk of contracting the disease, she explains.
When diagnosing a person of Pulmonary TB, he or she is taken through a basic examination known as the smear micro-Sputum test.
She says the diagnosis of active TB is based on chest X-rays, as well as microscopic examination and culture of body fluids.
So just like one of the five to 10 persons who are diagnosed every month at the CCTH, Dr Botchway put Johnny on a six-month medical therapy.
In about two weeks, he was back on his feet, and a month later he returned to his security job in Accra.
Dr Botchway was very hopeful that Johnny was on his way to be cured of the dreadful germ disease; little did she know that her patient had not cured his mind of the cause of his disease and his wife’s associated guilt.
Hence, he discontinued his medication and focused on looking for money to rent a place to live beyond the physical reach of his wife. Before long, he developed a hunchback from the TB. A few months later, Johnny, who was now isolated from everyone who could care for him, passed on to eternity.
Robert Koch, a German physician and scientist, once said: “If the importance of a disease for mankind is measured by the number of fatalities it causes, then tuberculosis must be considered much more important than those most feared infectious diseases; plague, cholera and the like.”
But Joanna, a musician, on the other hand, is profoundly grateful for surviving Pulmonary TB because of the wealth of support and love she received her family and friends.
In 2015, Joanna started her medical therapy long before she knew what was ailing her.
She confessed to the GNA that she would have committed suicide had she been informed about her diagnosis directly.
“I got to know after being on medication for some months, she says. “Apparently, the doctor had instructed the caretakers not to disclose the information to me. My younger brother, who also discovered I had been infected with the disease, kept mute and treated me with so much love and care.”
“I know it’s the love and care of my friends and family, which have kept me alive. They never made me feel much less of a human being”.
Dr Frank Bonsu, the Manager for the Greater Accra TB Control Programme, said at the Meet-the -Press Conference, held to herald the 2017 World TB Day that: “It is estimated that 2.4 billion of the world’s population have acquired TB”.
“In Ghana, 286 per every 100,000 people are affected yearly.”
Dr Linda Veneto, the Greater Accra Regional Director of the Ghana Health Service, also said that out of the 286 per the 100,00 population, the Greater Accra was able to detect only 49 cases, leaving a huge number of undetected cases.
But research has shown that these undetected cases with the associated high death rate are not due to the lack of drugs for patients after diagnosis. This is because TB treatment is free.
However, stigmatisation has severally been blamed for the inability to rescue the victims.
In March 2016, the then Acting Programmes Manager of the National Tuberculosis Control Programme, Dr Nil Nortey Hanson, told Citi News in an interview that the Board was facing challenges in detecting infected people due to stigmatisation.
In March 2017, Ehunabobrim Nana Prah Agyensaim VI, the Paramount Chief of Assin Owirenkyi Traditional Area, and Ghana’s TB Ambassador aptly declared: “The stigma attached to TB is unbelievable”.
Everyone is at Risk
But getting TB is not limited to certain types of persons. Indeed, everybody can be exposed to the disease due to the mode of transmission. This is because a cough or sneeze from an infected person could affect those around when they breathe in the air droplets from him/her.
Medical educators, therefore, advise when a person starts exhibiting such symptoms like excessive and prolonged coughing, fever, night sweat, loss of weight and appetite, chest pains and frequent fatigue, he or she must be sent to the hospital for screening and treatment, instead of shunning the fellow’s company.
Dr Botchway advises TB patients to take their medications as directed by the doctor; and on time.
Most importantly, she urges the public to demystify the notion that the disease is caused by witches and wizards or by some spiritual forces in order to curb stigmatisation.
As a novelty, the Greater Accra Division of the Ghana Health Service, on March 21, launched a TB Call Desk at the Adabraka Polyclinic.
Dr Vanotoo says centre is to serve as tele-consultations and guidance to the public on all manner of cases regarding the disease.
It would also serve as a centre for individuals to make enquiries, as well as complaints about TB services and provide screening for the public upon request.
She advocates a sustained public education on the disease because, she says, the stigma can be the result of lack of education.
She also advises the media to make TB a priority in their daily media activities throughout the year.
As theme this year’s anti TB beckons, “Unite to End TB”, Dr Vanotoo asserts that providing love and care to affected persons and uniting to fight stigmatisation would make a world of difference in TB control.