Testing for Tuberculosis in Indonesia

February 2, 2015

Kira Barwich, a volunteer with a Samaritan’s Purse partner in Indonesia, reports back for International Development Week.

Indonesia is a beautiful country with stunning beaches and lush mountains. Its people are friendly—as we ride through the villages there is often a trail of children running after us calling "bule" (meaning “foreigner”) and waving their hands. The braver kids reach up for a high-five.

Testing For TuberculosisThe team with which I am volunteering consists of five Indonesians with hearts to deliver health and hope to the people of Nias Island. We are currently hosting workshops at various health centers in order to train local nurses and doctors how to perform the Tuberculin Skin Test. This training will open the door to diagnosing and then effectively treating children with tuberculosis (TB).

With the hope of completing comprehensive TB screening in the region, we select ten women from each village to be part of a "care group." In equipping these women with knowledge and awareness about the disease, the goal is that they in turn will create positive change in their communities.

We hosted a training session for 300 of these women last week. The Nias people love song and dance, so as soon as there was a break in the session, a guitar would appear and the women would burst into song. In educating about TB, traditional music has proven an effective tool as well. 

One of the biggest obstacles is a lack of knowledge and awareness about TB. For example, the bloody cough associated with TB is commonly thought to be the result of a spell cast on the ill individual, and thus villagers look to local witch doctors for help. This mindset, coupled with small homes, poor sanitation, remote mountain villages, and cultural stigma associated with symptoms, makes a ready breeding ground for the disease.

One patient we visited yesterday began the six-month drug therapy for his TB but stopped taking the medicine halfway through because it made him feel sick. He now he has a strain of dangerous drug-resistant TB, which necessitates traveling to a bigger city on another island for treatment—a seemingly insurmountable obstacle in his mind. As we sat with him in his home, he told us he was in despair.

We did what we could. We performed the Tuberculin Skin Test on his children, and not surprisingly due to the contagious nature of the disease, all three tested positive for TB. We prayed for the man, and also provided him with a protein supplement necessary for the TB medication, which his children will begin right away.

Please pray for the people of Nias Island, that they will come to understand what TB truly is and how to protect themselves and their families. 

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