TB REACH: Volunteer women groups support TB treatment in Ethiopia

“For me, there is no other blessed work than saving the lives of children” said Tadelech Eshetu, a community volunteer from Arba Minch, after having completed a training on how to detect and link eligible children for TB preventive treatment (TPT). “My awareness about TB disease is completely transformed and now I can help my community to prevent it,” remarked Beza Akalu, another volunteer woman from Addis Ababa.

Young children are at increased risk of contracting tuberculosis from adults with infectious forms of the disease. Infection can be prevented by giving daily or weekly medicines for 3-6 months. Despite availability such preventive treatment, many children in Ethiopia die of TB. Improving TB Preventive Treatment among children under five through the engagement of women’s indigenous associations in Ethiopia is the aim of this TB REACH project in Ethiopia, funded by Stop TB Partnership.

It was designed to address the low rates of TPT initiation and completion in young children in remote hard-to reach and urban slum areas of Ethiopia. In partnership with Love In Action Ethiopia (LIAE), a local NGO, KNCV engaged women-led local associations called Iddirs as community mobilizers, contact tracers and treatment supporters in two districts in Ethiopia.

Iddirs are primarily organized as community networks to facilitate funerals. We trained 154 Iddir volunteers drawn from 60 Iddirs in three zones and provided them with transportation allowances and airtime. Based on the information the Iddirs received from health workers at the nearby health facility, they went to the homes of patients with known TB infection. During the visits, the women educated the household members about the importance of TB preventive treatment for children. The women then checked if child household contacts had TB symptoms and referred them to the nearby health facility for further evaluation. Those without active TB disease received preventive treatment from the health center. The women followed them through regular home visits and reported to the health center when they identified side effects or other problems with the treatment. Upon successful completion of treatment, the mothers/guardians of children received a certificate of completion.

Through this approach, these volunteer women identified and supported treatment of 937 children under five years of age between July 2020-June 2021 in Gamo & Goffa zones in southern Ethiopia, and in a slum sub-city in Addis Ababa. Of these, 99% successfully completed the treatment. To our knowledge, this is the highest recorded treatment success rate.

KNCV has been fighting TB since its establishment in 1903. Over the past 117 years, the organization has acquired indispensable knowledge and experience in the field of effective TB control, resulting in pre-elimination in the Netherlands and significant contributions to global evidence generation, policy development and TB program implementation worldwide.

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Tuberculosis is still one of the major causes of preventable death in the world and claims over 4000 lives a day, leading to over 1,5 million deaths a year.

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