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TB counsellors making a difference in PNG

  • 24 Aug 2023


Image: (L-R) Prime TB Counsellors Allan Kuma, Kathy Sonny, Elisah Kisopet, Esther Solomon, Steven Iramu and Samuel Dowaki

A team of counsellors is making a difference in the lives of people with tuberculosis (TB) in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG). 

The counsellors started working at Port Moresby General Hospital in February 2022 and are funded under the PRIME-TB program to help improve access, care and support throughout TB treatment.

PRIME-TB involves the development of four knowledge hubs in PNG and Indonesia that can pilot and scale up successful innovations in TB case detection and models of care and conduct enhanced surveillance to support the micro-elimination of TB in these areas.

The counsellors work closely with clinical, social work and treatment staff to offer a counselling and education program that provides support for adults and children diagnosed with TB through Port Moresby General Hospital.

They also work with families of children under five years who are on preventive therapy for latent TB infection.

The initiation of the program was inspired by the success of the longstanding TB counselling and education program in place in Daru (another TB hotspot in PNG) and adapted to the Port Moresby context and needs.

TB is an infectious disease caused by a bacteria. It commonly affects the lungs but can also impact any part of the body.

More than 1.6 million people die from TB worldwide every year, but it is preventable and curable. Latent TB is when the bacteria that causes TB lies dormant in the body without making the person sick.

People with latent TB infection have no symptoms but may develop the active disease if they do not receive treatment for the infection.

Peer Counsellor Kathy Sonny said she was astounded by the lengths to which people in Papua New Guinea go to receive treatment.

“Many of these people are experiencing gender-based violence, have difficulty covering bus fares to the clinic or are co-infected with other diseases as well as the TB, but they are still trying to get treatment,” she said.

Fellow peer counsellor Steven Iramu said the empathetic support provided by counsellors helped people receive treatment in spite of these challenges.

“Our service provides the support and encouragement people need to help them overcome barriers to receiving treatment,” Mr. Iramu said.

Lead counsellor Samuel Dowaki said the counsellors have built a good rapport with members of the community.

“People now ask for the counsellors by name; there is an enormous amount of trust there,” he said.

The program is also providing treatment support for children. Peer counsellor Elisah Kisopet works with children and their families.

“There isn’t much support targeted specifically at children, so I am often asked by parents to explain treatment to children in a way they can understand,” Ms. Kisopet said.

“We are keen to see more adults and children complete their course of treatment for TB with our help.”

During its first 12 months, the PRIME-TB program has delivered 340 adult counselling sessions and more than 300 child and family counselling sessions.

The strong collaboration with clinical and treatment staff has assisted counsellors to develop effective referral and support processes.

The program has already had a big impact on the community, with referrals to the program increasing and interruption to treatment decreasing.