Miss SA aims to end TB stigma

Through her #breakthestigma campaign, Green will be supporting raising awareness of global and national TB campaigns.

Miss South Africa 2018 Tamaryn Green has announced she will be focusing on tuberculosis as her official year of reign campaign.

Green also spoke publicly for the first time about her own battle with TB in 2015.

Every Miss SA titleholder has an opportunity during her year of reign to adopt a cause or launch a campaign. It’s hoped that because of her high profile, it will make a difference in the lives of many.

Through her #breakthestigma campaign, Green will be supporting raising awareness of global and national TB campaigns in the hope that people suffering from tuberculosis will come out of the shadows and will not be stigmatised.

Green, who was a sixth-year medical student at UCT when she took the Miss SA crown earlier this year, was diagnosed with occupationally acquired TB three years ago. She didn’t share her story because of the stigma associated with the disease.

This, she says, made the process of diagnosis and treatment much harder and more traumatic for her.

She will run her campaign in conjunction with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Department of Health.

WHO’s End TB campaign is aiming to conquer the global TB epidemic, with targets to reduce TB deaths by 95% and to cut new cases by 90% between 2015 and 2035, and to ensure that no family is burdened with catastrophic expenses due to TB.

“It took me three years to talk about my story. I could have avoided a lot of trauma by speaking about it sooner. I’m now in the process of dealing with it. “I want to encourage people to speak up about their problems and get the help they need. It is the only way we are going to beat TB,” said Green, adding that the power of the Miss SA platform was bigger than she imagined.

“I am in a position where my voice can be heard, and with that I have an opportunity to help as many people as I can.”

Green answers questions regarding her TB initiative

You were a final year medical student when you were crowned Miss SA; what will this bring to your TB outreach?

Being a sixth-year medical student allowed me to witness the TB problem first hand. It has helped me identify the need for this outreach, and through my studies I have a better understanding of the disease, allowing me to stand more strongly in support of this project. The experience with patient-doctor interaction also helps me relate and empathise with those who have been affected by this disease.

Tell us about your personal journey with TB

I was officially diagnosed by an infectious specialist in June 2015 after a number of tests, and I started treatment immediately. I made the decision not to tell any of my extended family and friends for fear of being treated differently and isolated as this often happens with TB patients.

In my second month of treatment I could no longer handle the discomfort of sitting through lectures. I then spoke to my lecturer who immediately got me help from a specialist doctor at Groote Schuur. The university was very supportive throughout the process and offered counselling. My treatment continued until I developed hepatitis secondary to the medication. This was when it got really bad. I felt ill every day for a month and I deferred my exams and moved back home. My medication was then changed and soon I started feeling better until eventually I was cured.

The whole story was more traumatic than I allowed myself to admit. It not only affected me but also my immediate family and close friends.

What did you learn?

I grew and learned so much about myself through the process. I always saw myself as a strong and independent woman. While being ill I was vulnerable and needed help. I learned that you don’t have to deal with everything by yourself.

I was disappointed in myself for falling ill, placing a strain on my family and deferring an exam as a third-year medical student. Speaking about this now is hopefully not only helping other people speak up but is also helping me deal with it. In 2014, the World Health Assembly adopted WHO’s End TB Strategy to eliminate the global TB epidemic by 2035 by reducing 90% of TB cases.

Do you think this is going to happen?

I believe it is very possible, but will require a lot of strategising.

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