Patient Regains Hope After Tuberculosis Treatment in Liberia

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PIH patient receives comprehensive tuberculosis care, treatment

Posted on March 24, 2023

Viola Wleh (center) sits with PIH staff members: Bendy Sannoh (left), social protection coordinator, and Watta Kamara (right), MDR-TB physician assistant. (Photo Courtesy of PIH Liberia)

Viola Wleh thought she had a common cold, but her diagnosis was more serious: multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). 

The infectious disease can be deadly—especially the drug-resistant type—so patients should receive care immediately. Unfortunately, there was no treatment for MDR-TB available at the county public hospital, and Viola’s cough persisted. In an effort to take matters into her own hands, Viola purchased painkillers and cough medication in the hopes that this would improve her condition. 

The cost of these drugs far outweighed her low monthly income of $4,000-5,000 LRD ($25-30 USD). Typically, she used that money to support her eight children; however, her health was in jeopardy. Her situation was gradually becoming a death sentence, she says. 

“I was going to die,” Viola thought.

A few weeks later, a home visit by a Partners In Health (PIH) Liberia community health worker gave Viola hope. She learned about the importance of early treatment and was referred to PIH-supported J.J. Dossen Hospital, the first and only decentralized tuberculosis ward in the country, where she could receive free care. The 15-bed unit opened its doors to patients in 2017.

Viola left her mother’s house, a 3-bedroom dirt home with a zinc roof and no ceiling, where she was living with her children, and headed to the hospital. She traveled 133 kilometers (82.6 miles) via motorbike—the main means of transportation in rural Liberia—from her home in Sinoe County to Maryland County. 

On June 14, 2022, Viola was admitted to the MDR-TB ward at J.J.Dossen Hospital.

Viola Wleh at J.J. Dossen Hospital in Liberia. (Photo Courtesy of PIH Liberia)

Road to Recovery 

Upon her arrival, the 49-year-old mother was given TB medication—at no cost to her, this time. She also received support beyond medical care, including food, housing, and transportation. Guided by social medicine principles, PIH believes it’s important to treat the whole person, not just their disease.

As the days and weeks passed by, Viola became more hopeful. 

“I’m so happy to be alive again,” she says.

After an extensive and consistent nine-month treatment regimen at J.J. Dossen, Viola regained the weight she lost and began to feel healthier. She became well enough to be transferred from the hospital to a PIH-provided home in New Kru Town, a suburb of Harper, Liberia, where she lived for about six months. On March 6, she was reunited with her family in Sinoe County. 

Viola is one of hundreds of patients with tuberculosis who receive PIH support each year. Many low-income countries are burdened by tuberculosis and Liberia is in the top 30 countries worldwide with the highest TB burden. In 2021, Liberia reported 7,446 tuberculosis cases with a treatment success rate of 77%, according to the World Health Organization

For the last three decades, PIH has treated patients like Viola and has shown that recovery is possible with the proper treatment plan, social support, and community-based care.

Originally published on pih.org

A 21-year-old college student in Astana, Kazakhstan, Maya been running persistent fevers and waking up drenched in sweat. Her mother insisted she get checked out. As they waited for test results, the doctor came in to deliver the news: the sputum culture test came back positive for tuberculosis (TB), and Maya would need to start treatment immediately. Read more about Maya’s journey with TB.

Every person, no matter who they are or where they’re from, deserves the best health care we know how to offer.

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