Reigning Miss South Africa Tamaryn Green on Thursday revealed that she was a survivor of pulmonary tubercolosis (TB) after contracting the communicable disease in 2015 while she was a fourth-year medical student in Cape Town.
Green, who won the coveted crown in May, was speaking at the launch of her #breakthestigma campaign in Johannesburg which seeks to get more people tested for TB and prevent the deadly disease.
She tearfully told the story of how she had to pause her studies because of illness after she had tried to keep her TB diagnosis a secret from her family and friends, which got even more complicated when she suffered drug-induced hepatitis – the swelling of the liver – as a result of toxicity of taking strong TB medication for six months.
“I am Miss South Africa and I had TB. I thought I’d go through my treatment without anyone knowing and get over and done with, but that would be irresponsible when people are dying. After being diagnosed with TB, I had a wound on my neck which got infected and I had to take more medication. But luckily it was winter and I’d always cover it with a scarf,” Green said.
“I am now brave enough to tell my story without concern for what others may say. It’s taken me three years to speak up about my diagnosis because I was scared of being stigmatised. But the Miss SA gave me a safe platform and made me brave enough to speak about it now.”
TB is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide, killing at least 1.7 million people worldwide in 2016. According to the World Health Organisation, over 95% of TB deaths occur in low and middle-income countries. Seven countries account for 64% of the total, with India leading the count, followed by Indonesia, China, Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, and South Africa.
Green, who is in her sixth year of her medical studies, said that having survived TB had made her more sensitive to patients’ needs when dealing with them. She said by coming out about her diagnosis, she was hoping to inspire others to speak out and seek more information than dying alone because TB is curable.
Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi, via a video recording, commended Green for her initiative, saying that he was proud that Green had stepped up to be the ministry’s ambassador for TB, saying that this was an important milestone for the battle against the deadly disease.
“I truly admire your courage and determination, and thank you for your patriotism. I look forward to working closely with you and other TB ambassadors in taking the message to all South Africans that TB is curable,” Motsoaledi said.