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People and Places

Conquering TB in the time of COVID as a teenager

Jusmine Barbo and grandmother Mommy Liza
Jusmine with her grandmother who she affectionately calls Mommy Liza

Jusmine Barbo shares her story of struggle and triumph over her illness

It’s one thing for the youth to struggle with an illness like Tuberculosis (TB), but it’s entirely different when in the face of a global pandemic.

Jusmine Barbo had contracted TB in 2018, right before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Then a 15-year old student, she was only starting to navigate through life and enjoying all of what it has to offer. “I was at this point in my life when I was just beginning to pursue my dreams,” she said.

Luckily, Jusmine had the strong support and encouragement of her family, particularly her grandmother, and began her treatment and doctor’s appointments every three months. However, things changed come 2020.

Jusmine Barbo
Jusmine, as she was undergoing treatment back in 2020

According to the National Tuberculosis Control Program, the Philippines suffered a 49 percent drop in testing in 2020, mostly attributed to the struggle that people experienced in seeking medical care during the lockdowns. In addition, human, financial, and other resources have been reallocated from tackling TB to the pandemic response, limiting the availability of essential services.

When the lockdowns happened, Jusmine had to continue treatments at home. She faced numerous challenges such as running out of supplies and going out for routine check-ups. She started to feel discouraged but was reminded by her grandmother that TB is curable and she can beat this condition.

”I am very thankful to my grandmother because she has helped me during this delicate time. She always told me that everything would come to pass, and that TB is curable. She also told me to be patient with my treatment because I would soon be going back to the things I enjoyed doing. I consider grandma as my strength,” she said.

Now 19 years old and a high school senior, Jusmine remains vigilant and continues to receive better treatment as hospitals have already opened up. Her advice to individuals with the same condition: “Because health is wealth, we need to take care of our health, with or without COVID. We should also be aware of the people we meet each day, and practice protocols. Let us not be discouraged because we can beat TB.”

While the battle against the pandemic continues, it is doubly important to remember that TB is a serious health concern that may have severe repercussions. Jusmine shows that no matter how tough the fight may seem, a solid support system and the willingness to get treated can make the fight easier.

For more information about TB, visit https://tbfree.ph/. This includes an online self-assessment tool to help with TB identification and treatment. It may also be used to check for suspected TB, and locate the nearest health facility.

The https://tbfree.ph/ is part of the Department of Health (DOH)’s local communication campaign, Para Healthy Lungs, KonsulTayo, which is supported by USAID’s TB Innovations and Health Systems Project (TB IHSS). It aims to raise tuberculosis as a public health priority in the country using social and conventional media methods.

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