For countless decades, Tuberculosis (TB) has claimed millions of lives around the world, including in Malawi. The current regimens of drugs to treat the disease often lead to non-adherence and the development of drug resistance. While TB Preventive Therapy (TPT) has been available for decades to treat latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI), the 6-9 month Isoniazid Preventive Therapy (IPT) treatment was not very welcomed by communities, and many people living with HIV (PLHIV) found it difficult to adhere very well to this treatment. The introduction of new, short-course TPT therapies such as 3HP has come at an opportune time to change the TB prevention landscape.
Based on a tailored training provided by New York-based Treatment Action Group (TAG), as part of the Unitaid-funded IMPAACT4TB project, Malawian journalists, civil society organizations and affected communities, are now taking steps to raise awareness and to advocate for greater access and build community demand for the safer, short course 3HP treatment for PLHIV and children under 5 years old, who are vulnerable populations to TB infection.
Partners such as Journalists Association Against AIDS (JournAIDS), Facilitators for Community Transformation (FACT), Coalition of Women Living with HIV (COWLHA), and others are collaborating to push for 3HP demand generation in communities.
According to TPT Guidelines, 3HP – a combination of Isoniazid and Rifapentine – have the potential to minimize TB-related deaths, enhance adherence, and improve treatment outcomes for most PLHIV and other vulnerable populations. Thokozile Nkhoma-Phiri, Executive Director of FACT says that the drug not only improves the quality of life but can help in strengthening economic gains and health rights of TB patients in many vulnerable communities. “3HP is a good preventive drug regimen with fewer side effects. As a three-month, short regimen, it means people who take it will be able to effectively work, contribute to economic development and also enjoy their right to health” says Phiri. She calls upon the government of Malawi to accelerate 3HP adoption to prevent TB and as a treatment option to protect people against the COVID-19 epidemic, which continues to hinder efforts made in the HIV and TB response. The new TPT regimens have the potential to reduce TB treatment-related costs, including the catastrophic costs of accessing diagnostic and treatment services, faced by many in Malawi.
JAAIDS appreciates the important role that the media plays in disseminating relevant TB and health information and organized a media focusing on TPT fundamentals on 2 September 2020. The rationale was to ensure that journalists were empowered with knowledge and technical expertise to report responsibly on TB and the whole TPT landscape. Expertise was drawn from radio, television, both newspaper and online media.
Lauryn Haukeya who works for Mibawa TV and recently underwent the journalists’ training offered by JournAIDS, says that the initiative to train the media is commendable to enable journalists to generate high-quality stories to inform the public on TB which is still a major public health challenge. “The training provided by JournAIDS is a major step forward for us the media to report more on TB and I think I now understand what TB preventive therapy and 3HP are all about,” says Haukeya. She further added that; “the media has a huge role to play in raising awareness on TB in all vulnerable communities”
This engagement ensured improved relationships with the media and a specialized team was established to support awareness-raising and community demand for TPT. The trained journalists committed themselves to greatly scale up media coverage on issues around TB preventive therapy.
Malawi’s new 2020-2025 National HIV Strategic Plan (NSP) has included 3HP as part of the package in TB prevention, which is an important milestone to ensure that Malawians in local vulnerable communities have access to these life-saving and quality drugs.
Written by Dingaan Mithi, Programme Manager, Journalists Association Against AIDS