I was only 12 years when I started experiencing a cough that persisted for a long time, and I did not understand what I was suffering from. I remember taking those bitter horrible pills, and my mother beating me when I failed to swallow them and or sometimes supervise me with a whip, to ‘motivate’ me to swallow those pills.
With time, though after going through my mother’s version of motivation, I perfected my act and would diligently remind her to give me my medicine which I would pretend to take unsupervised only to rush into the toilet and flush them down the drain. This continued for a while and like all mothers, she became suspicious of my sudden attitude towards my medicine. Without my knowledge she was carefully observing my sudden change and she carefully laid her trap. She had noticed that I would never take my medicine in front of her, and that I would rush to the toilet to relieve myself after being given the pills. In my fickle mind my plan was foolproof and there was no way I could get caught after all she was happy I was taking my medication and I was happy I was not dancing with the cane or swallowing my worst nightmare.
My luck eventually ran out and one particular day, I did what I had now perfected, requested for my medicine, rushed to the toilet, stayed there for a few minutes did my act and quickly walked out. Unfortunately, that day, heaven was not on my side, the pills did not go down the drain when I flushed them. When I walked out, my mother walked in and before I could reach the bottom of the stairs, I heard her shouting my name.
“Serra…aaa!” it sounded as if she was on fire and I started shaking in my skin because then I knew only divine intervention would spare me. Unfortunately that was just but a dream on a sky high shelf.
I ran into the guest room which was downstairs and hid under the bed but my malicious sister sold me out and the rest is for you to conjure in your imagination. At times I wish just wish that the child laws in Kenya would have been operational then but unfortunately there was nothing like that and corporal punishment was the order of the day and I am sure I am not the only one who had to face such punishment from their parents.
After she was done with me, she waited for my father to report everything. He did not spare me either. When I eventually managed to slip away from him, I rushed into my favorite room, “the toilet”, and locked myself inside where I uncomfortably spent the night. To add salt to injury my whole family were taken for a treat very early the next day as I languished in the toilet alone.
It took ten years for the truth to be revealed – that what I suffered from then was TB! If I only this had been explained to me then I would have been more careful with my drugs with the understanding of the effects of not adhering to treatment.
The experience has also left me paranoid about contracting TB again. I find myself taking unnecessary caution to avoid contracting TB. I am not 12— years but still cannot stand medicine of any kind. I’d rather be sick than take pills if injections are not an option for the treatment. I am poor at adhering to any form of pills or tablets and as foolish as it sounds or as ignorant as I maybe, I can take close to a month to complete a dose of 7 days. I know it does not do me any good especially when it comes to adherence, immunity and the like but I just can’t help it.
I am sure my experience, is relived in most households because most parents do not disclose to their children sensitive health issues relating to them. Tuberculosis still faces a lot of stigma in the society especially due to its association to HIV. The failure of parents to disclose to their children leads to poor treatment adherence. Some parents will lie to their children why they have to take medication of any kind especially anti TB or ARV drugs. Children are not counseled on the importance of adhering to drugs and as such they see it as a punishment when they are forced to take a cocktail of drugs without having a good explanation why they have to take them.
I am currently a TB advocate and what I would really love to see is the government setting up mechanisms to address the gaps in pediatric TB issues. Children have a right to be informed; they also have a right to know what is happening to their health. Withholding information in the guise of protecting them is not the answer as it ends up damaging them which at times may have a lasting negative impact on medication, like in my case. Disclosure programs in children should be rolled out to enable children understand the disease and better address issues related to it such as treatment adherence, for their own purpose as well as to educate other children whom they relate or mingle with on a daily basis.
Pediatric TB should be addressed with equal importance and measure as TB in adults and more funds invested in diagnosis and treatment of children. If these are done then I believe we shall go along way in reducing TB deaths especially in children