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​A campaign to teach people about tuberculosis – and that the there is a cure – spearheaded by Gerry Rantseli-Elsdon, has ended in Joburg.
GERRY Rantseli-Elsdon, who has survived tuberculosis (TB), has a novel way of raising consciousness about the disease, which can be fatal: she walks for change.

Gerry Tantseli-ElsdonGerry Rantseli-Elsdon: Spearheading the campaign aganst TBRantseli-Elsdon and her team started a TB walkathon on 24 March, World TB Day, and have been to all nine provinces preaching the message that TB is curable. They have also been educating people about the link between TB and HIV in a campaign she conceptualised called, “Hit the Road and Kick TB”.

The initiative is endorsed by Red Cross South Africa Society, Herbal Life and the Gerry Elsdon Foundation.

They completed the last leg of their 22 walkathons in Soweto on Friday, 13 April. Dressed in red and white T-shirts bearing the campaign slogan, “Hit the road and kick TB”, the team walked about 20 kilometres from Chris Hani Road to Maponya Mall in Pimville, Soweto.

On their way, they stopped to speak to hawkers along the roadside, passers-by and anyone they could find, about TB and its symptoms. South Africa is by far the third highest TB burdened country in the world, according to Rantseli-Elsdon.

TB and HIV link
“Talking to people on the streets, I could pick up a lot of misconceptions that communities have about TB. Most of the time, they confuse it with HIV. There is need to educate our people that TB is not transmitted through the blood system, it is an air bacterial disease,” she said.

Rantseli-Elsdon was diagnosed with the disease 12 years ago.

“Most importantly, our people should be educated that TB is curable.” In some communities, people were afraid of being tested because of the stigma attached to the disease.

“In other communities people do not have access to health care facilities at all. So it becomes impossible to tackle TB. Many of those end up dying the in hands of traditional healers.”

On their journey across the country, Rantseli-Elsdon and the team visited TB patients in their homes. “It is important that we encourage home-based care because a lot of terminally patients are located far from health centres.”

Pamphlets are handed out along the wayPamphlets are handed out along the wayAfter arriving at Maponya Mall, Rantseli-Elsdon addressed a group of young people in the car park. She told them about the symptoms of the disease, which include chest pains, loss of appetite, night sweats, coughing and weight loss.

She was completely healed of TB after undergoing treatment for nine months – and they could also be, she pointed out.

From Maponya Mall, she was joined by a group of young people; they walked up Chris Hani Road all the way to Bara Taxi Rank. Rantseli-Elsdon said taxi ranks were a breeding ground for the TB bacteria.

“Taxi drivers and passengers are the most vulnerable to TB. The bacteria has better chances of breeding quickly in confined spaces such as taxis. We always encourage passengers and drivers to keep the windows open to minimise the spread of TB,” she said.

At Bara, the team spoke to schoolchildren, old people, young adults and taxi drivers.

Among them was Busisiwe Mthethwa from Pimville, who was keen to be tested for TB. “You will never know if you have TB. When I get time I will visit the clinic. I will also encourage my family members to get tested too because it is important.”

Another youngster who seemed very inquisitive was Mpho Mokoena, from a local primary school. “How do I know if I have TB?” asked the youngster, who was referred to the giant banner outlining the symptoms. “I am going to tell my friends about TB,” said Mpho.

The campaign has also visited prison across the country, including in rural areas of Giyani in Limpopo Province, Eastern Cape, Bloemfontein and Cape Town.

For more information about TB, visit the TB/HIV Care Association website.

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