‘Can we screen you for TB? It’s just less than two minutes’, he enquires of her.
She agrees and then continues to give her name and surname when prompted. ‘My surname is Matlakala. My name is Moyahabo’, she says.
Matlakala Moyahabo is one of hundreds of people that Thabo Mwale speaks to in his drive to create awareness about TB. This time around, he’s conducting a week-long campaign in the seering heat at a busy industrial area of Ga-Rankuwa, outside Pretoria, to screen people for TB. TB screening involves filling out a questionnaire on signs of TB, such as, coughing for more than two weeks, sweating at night, weight loss, loss of appetite and fever. If you answer yes to one or more of the signs, you get referred for a comprehensive examination at a health facility. This is the work that Thabo Mwale, a 35 year-old father of two, has dedicated himself to through the Thabo Mwale TB Foundation. He formed the foundation in 2009 after losing one of his lungs because of TB and then spending years as a TB peer educator.
‘I was diagnosed with TB in 1994 when I was in Mpumalanga. My left lung was destroyed by (the) tuberculosis germ. In 1997, I started to educate people about tuberculosis. It changed my life. It’s like it’s a wake-up call. So, in 2009, I realised that my message is too small for the people. I ended up establishing a tuberculosis control foundation, which is the Thabo Mwale TB Foundation. As a TB advocate, I’m telling people about what I experienced from tuberculosis. To do this alone, I realised that it is not good for me’¦ Let me engage people to be involved in this campaign to advocate for everyone’, Mwale explains the history of the foundation.
For his week-long campaign in Ga-Rankuwa, Mwale contacted local businesses for space to screen employees and customers. The Thabo Mwale TB Foundation project co-ordinator, Will Tseole, says the industrial area is fertile ground for the screening campaign as the types of businesses here can easily expose employees to tuberculosis.
‘We’ve got companies here dealing with stone. And, as a matter of fact, the minute you start dealing with stone, dust is involved. We’ve got companies dealing with paper, here. The minute you talk about paper, you talk about the dust from the paper. We’ve got companies dealing cement around here. The list is endless. That’s why it’s fertile for us to can launch our campaign’, Tseole says.
One of the businesses that participated is Meatgood Cash & Carry, a butchery establishment.
‘I chose to participate because I once had TB. I was 19’¦ Ten years back. I can relate because I had TB. People must be aware of TB. It is important to know your body because most of us don’t know if we have TB or if we have flu, so we should keep on testing’, says Brenda Jika, manager of Meatgood.
Moyahabo Matlakala believes that such screening campaigns are helpful.
‘I think it’s going to help lots of people because people die because of TB, not knowing that it’s a curable disease’, she says.
‘I think it was helpful because now I can help somebody. I know the symptoms of TB. I can advise them to do a TB test’, adds Wakhe Tlou.
Thabo Mwale says the work of organisations such as his is important in helping the Health Department to fight the scourge of TB.
‘We know that in South Africa, we have a very big challenge of tuberculosis. The government cannot do it alone’, he says.
Mwale’s passion inspires his colleagues.
‘Thabo, the founder being a TB survivor, is leading from the front. He’s doing it from passion. He knows the pain of it and what he realises is that it was because of lack of knowledge that he ended up defaulting on the initial programme of the treatment of TB. He was supposed to be cured within a space of six months, but because he defaulted it took him longer than the normal time’, says Will Tsheole.
Mwale has ignited such passion that his colleagues continue to create awareness without receiving any funding for the organisation or remuneration for themselves. Despite the challenges, Mwale is proud of his TB champions.
‘We are struggling to run the programme. We are running this programme without any source of funds. Our members don’t receive anything from anyone,’ Mwale says, seemingly running short of breath.
‘But they are willing to do the job. They are affected by the disease. Some of them are like Thabo Mwale, some of them have families who suffered from tuberculosis. They have a lot of time to fight TB’, he says.