Tuberculosis initiatives draw international praise

Burnet Institute

20 December, 2019

Burnet Social Worker, Ms Tess Keam, presented the TB PHOTOVOICE exhibition at the World Conference on Lung Health in Hyderabad, India.

A tuberculosis (TB) peer education and counselling initiative in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been praised by the international TB research community as a critical component of providing people-centred care models to improve treatment outcomes, particularly in response to the drug-resistant TB crisis in similar settings.

Presenting on Burnet’s peer education and counselling program (Daru Island, PNG), at the Union World Conference on Lung Health in Hyderabad, India in November, Burnet International Health Officer and Social Worker Tess Keam said the international response was overwhelmingly positive to the idea of empowering peer counsellors, who are from the affected community themselves and have survived TB treatment themselves, to support people undergoing TB treatment.

“People are excited and inspired by the Peer Counselling model as it enables culturally appropriate education and support based on the lived experience of the counsellors,” Ms Keam said.

Daru Island is at the centre of a multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) epidemic where rates are among some of the highest documented globally.

Burnet Institute has been working in partnership with the Western Provincial Health Authority (PHA), PNG National Department of Health, World Vision, and the World Health Organization in the delivery of a comprehensive response to the epidemic through its Reducing the Impact of Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (RID-TB) project, supported by the Australian Government. Burnet Senior Principal Research Fellow, Professor Steve Graham presented an update on progress with a focus on the community-based contact screening and preventive treatment program for young children.

Since its commencement in 2016, the patient education and counselling program has been well accepted by patients and the community and contributed to the extremely low rates of loss to care in the TB program. Patients experience an arduous treatment journey that can be up to two years for Drug-Resistant TB.

Steve Graham

Image: Burnet Senior Principal Research Fellow, Professor Steve Graham, spoke about Burnet’s TB initiatives at the conference.

Ms Keam says she was approached by conference attendees about implementing a similar model in other regions, with many remarking their own programs had no counselling or educational components.

“Many TB programs have a strong clinical focus but to-date have not provided consistent high quality education and support,” she said.

“We’ve shown that empowering peers to provide skilled support for people on TB treatment is successful in contributing to treatment completion and is widely valued by the people on treatment.”

Tess Keam TB conference

Image: Burnet’s Tess Keam demonstrates tools developed and used in the Burnet RID-TB Patient Education and Counselling initiative to conference attendees.

Ms Keam said the counselling model has contributed to a significant reduction in patients who have stopped taking medicine before their treatment was completed. The people on TB treatment in Daru have widely expressed that they value the support of the peer counsellors highly, especially during the initial stage of learning of their diagnosis and dealing with the fear and uncertainty that this brings up.

Ms Keam said that the peer counselling model also has the added benefit of easing the burden on overloaded clinical staff in TB programs, as peer counsellors are able to spend the time needed to ensure that each person understands their illness and treatment, and provide ongoing support that is moulded to their individual context and needs.

PHOTOVOICE: A voice for young TB patients in PNG

Also drawing a positive response at the Union World Conference was the TB PHOTOVOICE exhibition.

The exhibition showed a collection of photos taken by young adults on treatment for TB in Daru, an age group who face the additional challenges of peer pressure to skip treatment, as well as interruptions to education and work.

Through the PHOTOVOICE program held in Daru in early 2019, 24 young people built strong relationships with others on treatment, shared their experiences of TB and were taught basic photography skills to enable them to document their life on treatment.

The results were an amazing array of images and stories that showed the importance of support from family, staff and community in recovery from TB.

Ms Keam, who coordinated the project, said the exhibition was a hit with conference attendees and provided inspiration to a number of NGO representatives, with one Indian NGO keen to implement a similar initiative to PHOTOVOICE locally.


Image: Other organisations attending the conference were inspired to implement similar initiatives to the TB PHOTOVOICE exhibition.

“The participants were overwhelmingly proud that their photos and stories were shown at an international conference and viewed by people from all around the world,” she said.

“When looking at how to support people on TB treatment, the TB world needs to be creative in how we engage and empower people on, or who have completed, treatment.

“Programs like the Peer Counselling model and PHOTOVOICE are great examples of how the knowledge and lived experience of TB survivors can support, encourage and inspire others experiencing TB.”

See more of the images and stories from the PHOTOVOICE project.

A story featuring PHOTOVOICE was also published in Burnet’s magazine IMPACT.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Tess Keam

Social Worker


[email protected]

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