Diminutive Sister Cheryl Liedeman grins and pats him on the back. ‘It’s fine sir. You look after yourself and have a good weekend.’
Less than a week ago, Liedeman and her 10 tuberculosis care volunteers from Tafelsig Clinic were on the stage at the Mitchells Plain community hall being applauded for achieving a 100 percent TB cure rate in the past year.
Good news is hard to come by in the world of TB, and Liedeman is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Liedeman’s award came in a week where a World Health Organisation report revealed that South Africa has by far the worst TB prevalence rate (infection per capita) in the world, with almost 1000 South Africans out of every 100 000 living with the disease in 2006.
Despite a global slowing down in new TB cases since 2003, South Africa also recorded the world’s second highest rate of new cases (incidence rate) in 2006.
More people died of TB in South Africa in 2006 than in any other country in the world – some 218 per 100 000.
The global TB cure rate for 2005 was 78%, but South Africa’s cure rate was only 58%. This was third worst in the world.
Stephanie Fourie, TB and HIV co-ordinator for the Mitchells Plain district shakes her head when asked why she thought Tafelsig did so well.
‘It’s the person in the room,’ she says, referring to Liedeman. ‘She is absolutely dedicated.’
The clinic was extensively damaged last September when tik addicts set fire to the building.
All the files in the TB clinic had been destroyed along with the consulting room.
‘But Sister Liedeman could make up folders for every patient. She knew them by name,’ says Fourie.
The fire happened on a Saturday. By the Monday, Liedeman and her TB Care workers, co-ordinated by Noreen Twigg had set up a TB clinic in the adjacent library hall.
‘We had no toilet, no phone, no wash basin. It was as if I was working in a rural area,’ says Liedeman, who only moved back into the revamped clinic this month. ‘It was very challenging and exhausting.’
Liedeman, who has been the sole TB nurse at Tafelsig for the past four year, personally sees around 50 TB patients every day, some for tablets and others for the notoriously painful injections to treat their drug-resistant TB.
A further 80 patients are treated daily by the TB Care workers in the overwhelmingly impoverished community.
‘They say I spoil my patients,’ smiles Liedeman, who uses a local anaesthetic before injecting patients, who are often very thin.
Asked what she ascribes her success to, Liedeman doesn’t hesitate: ‘I love my job and I have a special way of working with my patients. I am gentle, but I can also be strict when needed,’ says Liedeman.
She also doesn’t restrict her daily patients to coming to the busy clinic at specific times: ‘My clinic is open five days a week and they come for their treatment at a time that suits them, not when it suits me.’
At the end of each day, Liedeman and her team identify which patients had not arrived for treatment and a TB worker is often sent out the same day to find the patient.
Facility manager Sister Melissa Stanley says Liedeman’s commitment is hard to come by.
‘She loves what she does. I have never had a complaint from patient. She’s the same every day and she always goes the extra mile for her patients,’ says a Stanley.
Liedeman believes her job would be impossible without the support of the TB care workers who do the job for negligible pay ‘and walk their shoes until it is tattered’ and the two doctors at the clinic.
Has Liedeman ever contracted TB? ‘Never,’ she smiles behind the blue mask covering her mouth. ‘I’ve never been scared of that. People need to understand we can all get TB. We need to know that.’
This is the second year that Liedeman’s clinic has achieved a 100 percent cure rates.
Mitchells Plain as a district has improved it cure rate from 76 percent to 83 percent.
Around the corner Khayelitsha district recorded a massive improvement in the cure rate from 55% to 72% – no mean feat for a sub-district with such high case loads.