Getting Back to Good Health Faster

Written by: Janine Kuehlich

Tuberculosis (TB) is a preventable and treatable disease—with some symptoms very similar to that of COVID-19—that is killing nearly 1.5 million people worldwide and affecting 10 million people every year.

The theme for this year’s World TB Day was “It’s Time”. It’s time to put a spotlight on the suffering this disease still causes and accelerate the world’s response to TB and saving lives.

Despite being treatable, over 3,000 people lose their lives to this disease every day.

For the past two-years Breakthrough ACTION, a USAID-funded consortium, has been working in Nigeria to understand why this is happening and co-design ways to overcome the barriers people face for TB diagnosis and treatment.

Working collaboratively to increase TB case detection in Nigeria

In Nigeria, only about 1 in 4 cases of TB are detected and treated, as reported by the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP). Early detection is important to get people on treatment early and reduce the further spread of TB. Breakthrough ACTION aimed to find innovative ways to change people’s behavior in Nigeria so that they seek prompt and appropriate care for signs and symptoms of TB.

Working with the NTBLCP, Breakthrough ACTION has taken a human-centered approach. Through this process, the team unpacked challenges impacting TB case detection and treatment rates in Nigeria in a new way, gleaning insight for interventions. “Stigma, discrimination, and an overall lack of awareness of TB are proving to be major barriers to going to the facility for a TB test,” said Dr. Bolatito Aiyenigba, Malaria and Tuberculosis Deputy Project Director, Breakthrough ACTION Nigeria. “We now have deeper insights into the “why” through patient stories.”

Helping Nigerians get their lives back from TB

Breakthrough ACTION developed a set of concepts that will help people find the right pathway to treatment from the start. One of these concepts is a campaign called “Be Your Brother’s Keeper.” “The crux of the concept is to inspire Nigerians to care for one another by referring anyone they encounter with a cough that has lasted more than two weeks to an appropriate health facility—in essence, turning all Nigerians into cough monitors,” says Jennifer Orkis, Breakthrough ACTION.

The campaign will launch across Nigeria in 2020 and will include radio spots, social media messages, a hotline, and posters.

Taking a human-centered approach to solving health problems has helped the NTBLCP uncover different ways to solve these problems. “The current approach of developing social and behavior change interventions using the human-centered methodology provides platforms for the development of other interventions from insights obtained from various audiences. For example, the concept of the [TB campaign] is from the insight of getting one’s life back,” concluded Uko Itohowo, Director in the Nigeria Federal Ministry of Health and head of the NTBLCP Advocacy Communication and Social Mobilization.