These Migrants are Leading the Fight Against Tuberculosis Worldwide

Ofelia, an IOM nurse with Mustafa and his son Mijhem in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. Photo: Fedza Lukovac/IOM

Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death from a single infectious agent. New infections of TB occur in about 1 per cent of the global population every year.

On 24 March, IOM, the UN Migration Agency, and other global partners honor the many leaders for a TB-free world for World Tuberculosis (TB) Day. These are some of their stories.

Asha, a native Syrian, started her TB prevention grassroots movement in Jordan when her father was diagnosed with TB and her neighbours came to support her family three years ago. “Our friends and neighbours refused to leave us at that time. They were not afraid even though my father was sick.”

IOM helped catalyze Asha’s interest in becoming part of the health workers network in her community in Azraq and since her father’s diagnosis, she has been volunteering with IOM. Together with Abdel Karim, a fellow Syrian refugee, she is volunteering to protect her community from TB by providing door to door awareness-raising on TB in Azraq camp.

Abdel Karim was studying nursing in Homs, Syria, before the conflict began. He was unable to finish his studies there, but he is passionate about contributing to the wellbeing of the community in Azraq camp by raising awareness. Together with Asha, he distributes brochures with information detailing symptoms and treatment of TB, and offers residents a hotline to seek assistance for TB prevention.

Abd elKarim and Asha during an awareness session in Azraq camp. Photo: Fedza Lukovac/IOM

Dr. Bernard Opare is a native Ghanaian who is currently living in Tanzania. He has been a supervisor for Migration Health Assessment with IOM since 2001. Dr. Opare mainly handles TB patients. “I enjoyed clinical work in the hospital, but after joining IOM I realized the joy of assisting these vulnerable populations who had gone through wars and challenges,” he explained. “Just think of yourself as a refugee. I feel an obligation to serve.”

Dr. Bernard Opare. Photo: Fedza Lukovac/IOM

He says every day he wakes excited to go to work.

On 11 September 2017, Colombian-born Cesar Augusto was diagnosed with TB. His Venezuelan wife shared her experience caring for him in Caracas. She explained that TB primarily affects urban and poor communities in Venezuela. Oftentimes, infection can hinder job prospects for those who are diagnosed; a simple TB diagnosis can lead to under- or unemployment.

Already vulnerable families must then find extra income and care for their sick relatives. “I hope that our story reaches out to other people fighting this disease so that they know they are not alone… The families coping with TB are very strong, they have a lot of love.”

Nepalese nurse Bhumika Bhattaria has been working for IOM since 2015 and currently oversees TB related activities in Damak in southeastern Nepal. “As a nurse/HIV/TB counselor, I am fully focused on patient treatment and care, providing health education, treatment observation, contract tracing and recording and reporting… TB is a treatable and curable disease,” she said in a recent interview with IOM staff.

Bhumika Bhattaria performs TB treatment at a Bhutanese Refugee camp. Photo: Fedza Lukovac/IOM

China, India and Nigeria are among the high-risk nations that are actively combatting TB. The Indian government recently announced plans to eradicate the disease by 2025. These improvements, however, would not be possible without the help of health workers, volunteers and activists across the world. We, together, can end TB.

Mijhem shares his toys with friends in Azraq camp after recovering from TB. Photo: Fedza Lukovac/IOM

This story is part of the global campaign to celebrate this year’s World Tuberculosis Day. Learn more: