Alu Azege and Tristan Bayly
Abdulfata Abdulsalami was a technician with the Nigerian Police Force, his job was to fix damaged police cars, something that required lots of energy and physical strength. As he was paid for every car he fixed, he repaired every car he could, and there was never any time to relax. Until 2014 he was on top of his game and always fixed more cars than his colleagues, then he started to feel sick and bit by bit his performance began to slip.
It all began with a cough that he treated with over-the-counter drugs for almost a year, but it did not stop. When he started to experience severe chest pain, he knew he had to seek help. At the hospital, the doctors gave him the reason, he had TB.
By the time he started treatment, his family was already suffering because his income had dropped over the previous months. Now he was too weak to work, and his wife had to stop selling fruit to take care of him, the family was falling further into poverty with each passing day. He was forced to sell off his most prized possession – a plot of land where he had dreamed of building a house for his wife and two children.
When he completed the full course of treatment, the cough and chest pain stubbornly remained, so doctors put him on another course of TB treatment. Another six months passed, and towards the end, he finally started to feel a little better, and he decided to go back to work.
Abdulfata’s return to work was short lived as he realized he just didn’t have enough energy. Despite the cough having almost gone, he was still crippled by chest pain, so in December 2016 he returned to the hospital where testing showed he had developed multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) a form of the disease that is difficult to treat and one that is often deadly.
His life was falling apart. When the little money they had left finally ran out, he was forced to leave his home and take his family to live with his parents. Then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, fluid started accumulating in his chest, and he was diagnosed him pleural-thoracic empyema, another life-threatening condition. He became helpless, and with each passing day, he felt what little strength he had left slipping away. Each breath became more of an effort, and the pain was constant and frequently unbearable.
After many attempts to drain the fluid around his lungs, Abdulfata was scheduled for a surgery to correct the problem, but he had no money to pay for the operation, so he was forced to give up, and he told his wife not to take him back to the hospital.
Abdulfata had resigned himself to the fact that he was going to die, but that all changed when community health workers from the USAID-funded Challenge TB project who were looking for TB patients door-to-door came knocking and saw his condition.
The Challenge TB team took him back to the hospital, and along with state doctors successfully carried out the necessary surgery, before putting him on 20-months of treatment for drug-resistant TB.
Abdulfata is now completely cured of TB, and since finishing his treatment in March 2019, the cough and chest pain are finally gone. The only sad thing is that he has been advised not to go back to his old job, as it is too strenuous.
Looking back, Abdulfata is amazed he is still living and angry that TB robbed him of so much precious time. Had he still been able to work, he would have finished building his house, given his children a better education, and set up a business for him and his wife.
But he despite everything he is positive, and glad to be alive, which he says is due to the work Challenge TB is doing in Kano. He says he owes a debt of gratitude to the project, which has not only helped him but countless others like him who have had their lives ruined by TB.
“I wouldn’t wish what I experienced on my worst enemy. No one should have to go through that,” he says.
Challenge TB works in 14 states in Nigeria, looking for people with TB who have been missed by health services, reaching out to vulnerable communities such as those in urban slums, displaced people, those living with HIV, prisoners, and children.