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FEATURE: A TB-free mom named Malaya

TO MANY mothers like Malaya Intise-Relacion, the COVID-19 quarantine restrictions have somehow curtailed simple freedoms that families used to enjoy.

“Dati, nakakapasyal. Nakakapunta sa mga kamag-anak at kaibigan. Pero ngayon, mag-aadjust talaga. Gagawa ka ng paraan para di makaramdam na wala kang kaya nang gawin (Before, we are free to go out. Visit relatives and friends. But now, we have to adjust. We have to find ways so as not to feel that you are helpless)” says Malaya.

In the few months during the community quarantine, Malaya has found a liberating advocacy as a TB survivor-advocate for the #TBFreePH campaign of the Department of Health (DOH) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Malaya found an ad calling for TB survivors to be part of the campaign. She discussed this with her husband, Paul, and the couple decided to share Malaya’s story as a TB-free mother.

In 2012, Malaya was working for a non-government organization (NGO). She would spend extended periods of time in remote communities. One time, she remembered having extended bouts of coughing, unexplained fever, body malaise and mouth sores. When she had the chance to go for a check-up, she immediately got admitted in a private hospital and later discovered that she was positive for pulmonary TB.

Malaya had her husband and two young children tested for TB. They did not test positive for TB but still opted to undergo a TB Preventive Treatment while Malaya was also under treatment for her pulmonary TB.

While her treatment expenses were covered by her office’s health insurance, Malaya did not know that TB treatment could be availed free from government health facilities. “At that time, we spent over 10 thousand pesos for my expenses related to my treatment,” recalls Malaya.

During a post-treatment follow-up, Malaya was finally declared TB-free. “I felt so happy knowing that I am already cured from TB. At long last, in my mind, that I can freely hug members of my family without worrying that they might be infected with TB.”

Like many other persons affected by TB, Malaya had several misconceptions about TB. “I thought then that you could pass the bacteria by touching or hugging another person,” Malaya says. “It was difficult, especially for a mother, to be restricted that way.”

But now as a #TBFreePH survivor-advocate, Malaya hopes to counter these misconceptions. “You only get the TB bacteria if you inhale air that may have respiratory droplets coming from a person with TB. This usually happens in confined spaces or when you are in frequent company of this person.” That is why TB is common among people deprived of liberty or those who are in prison for an extended period of time.

This scenario conjures up sad memories for Malaya. Malaya’s parents, Federico and Nelly Intise, were activists who disappeared in 2006. Malaya and her younger brother Bayan were named after their parents’ ideals of freedom for the nation.

“I have long known what it means to be deprived of liberty. In my own little way now, I wish to enjoy moments of freedom,” says Malaya. Being a TB-free survivor-advocate exactly fits the bill. ( (#TBFreePH aims to promote stories of TB survivors and encourage other Filipinos to get checked-up, tested and treated for TB.)

By Nilo A. Yacat | Demand Generation Advisor TB Innovations and Health Systems Strengthening Project | Philippines
Cell: (63915) 056-3458 | NYacat@fhi360.org | www.fhi360.org

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