Giving a Voice to TB Patients Around the World
By Karin Dolinsek
How can one celebrity make enough noise to rattle a community out of its slumber and raise awareness about tuberculosis, the “silent killer”? The answer is with passion, and Gerry Elsdon, a South African TV personality and IFRC Goodwill Ambassador, has plenty of it. As a survivor and activist, Gerry plays a key role in raising tuberculosis awareness around the world. Her dedication mobilizes people to act, bringing dignity to those who are most in need of help.
Ten years ago, Gerry was an aspiring South African celebrity hosting of the African version of the popular reality show “Big Brother,” and also the beautiful face of LUX cosmetics. It was then, at the height of her career, that a chance diagnosis suddenly turned her life upside down: she had tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis (TB) is a curable infectious disease caused by bacteria that most commonly attacks the lungs. After being diagnosed, Gerry was faced with many obstacles, such as finding a treatment clinic and fighting social stigma. Because TB was a disease that authorities would rather hide and is not openly talked about, there are many myths associated with it. People often think that it is a poor man’s disease and hastily assume that if someone is TB positive, they must also be HIV positive. But TB is airborne and can be contracted by anyone, anywhere, crossing physical borders as well as the bounds of status and wealth.
“My giving TB sufferers a voice has assisted in lifting the veil on this illness. The stigma attached to people living with it is why we are not winning the battle,” Gerry said. “We can no longer be ashamed or afraid to speak or act. TB is killing people all over the world, it knows no borders, it does not discriminate and it is 100% curable.”
After Gerry’s TB infection became public, she realized she could use her celebrity status to give a face and a voice to other patients, especially women, whose silent plight against TB went unnoticed. Gerry agreed to be on the cover of a popular women’s magazine with the headline: “The positive face of TB” and went on to share her story with audiences worldwide.
So began a relentless campaign to bring the hushed-up disease into the light. While working with The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Gerry has also been involved with the Lilly MDR-TB Partnership, a global initiative established to create immediate, yet sustainable solutions to conquer this deadly disease.
“Our message is simple. With knowledge of the symptoms of TB, early diagnosis, the correct treatment and full adherence to your treatment you can go on to live a long, healthy and productive life,” Gerry said. “Get tested. Get treated. TB is curable.”
Gerry will host a live talk show at the Newseum in Washington, DC on July 22 at 12 noon, as a precursor to the International AIDS Conference. The show will give voice to women and children affected by HIV and TB, reach out to affected communities and help people worldwide. Learn more and watch live here: http://www.stoptb.org/talkshow/
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