Diwe Sapa's TB journey

Tess Keam

24 March, 2018

Image: TB patient Diwe Sapa and her daughter Wendy Mareko at Daru General Hospital

On World TB Day 2018, Burnet Institute Social Worker Tess Keam relates the story of Diwe Sapa, one of the patients in our RID-TB program in Daru, Papua New Guinea, as just one example of the enormous resources, planning, support, perseverance, sacrifice and love required to defeat tuberculosis.

Fifty-four-year-old Diwe Sapa was sick for over a year in her village before convincing her village Health Extension Officer (HEO) to send her to the nearest hospital in Daru for more extensive medical support.

The HEO had tried her on many different medicines but nothing was helping. Diwe reached Daru after two days of travel by car, on foot and by boat.

On arrival she went straight to the TB diagnostics centre at Daru General Hospital where TB program staff performed checks and diagnosed her with Multi-Drug Resistant (MDR) Tuberculosis. She was admitted to the MDR ward and was started on treatment.

On her first day in the ward a counsellor visited Diwe and explained that she had MDR Tuberculosis and would be taking treatment for two years.

Diwe became worried about her family back in the village. One of her daughters, Wendy, had travelled with her to Daru to care for her, but the rest of her family was now over two days' travel away.

After one week on MDR treatment Diwe began to feel stronger. Now one year and four months into her two years of treatment, Diwe hasn’t missed a day of treatment and is feeling well.

She doesn’t have any relatives living in Daru that she can stay with, so she and Wendy have been living in the hospital all of this time.

Her family often travel to Daru to sell fruit and vegetables at the market and they bring food (cassava, sweet potato, sago, bananas and yams) for Diwe and Wendy to supplement the food provided by the hospital.

Diwe’s treatment has included a course of Bedaquiline, a newer drug used to substitute for injectables in cases of serious side effects. Diwe experienced hearing loss from the injectable drug Kanamycin before being changed to Bedaquiline.

Diwe appreciates the support of the TB program medical team throughout her long hospital stay, especially the doctors who ensure that regular audiometry, ECG and blood tests are done to check side effects and treatment progress.

Diwe has also become close to the counselling team who regularly check in on her. With her newfound knowledge of TB, Diwe now sees that there were family and friends in her village who most likely were sick with TB. She talks of family members who lost weight rapidly and have now sadly passed away.

When she finishes her treatment Diwe is keen to return home and educate her community on TB.

She has asked the TB Patient Education and Counselling team to provide educational resources that she can take home with her and wants to make sure that anyone in her village with TB symptoms travels to Daru for screening.

Find out more about Burnet’s RID-TB program in PNG.

Contact Details

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

Associate Professor Suman Majumdar

Deputy Program Director, Health Security and Pandemic Preparedness; Co-head, Tuberculosis Elimination & Implementation Science; Principal Research Fellow


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