When Josue was diagnosed with drug-resistant tuberculosis, he had the mixed blessing of living with his large, extended family. His relatives were threatened with contagion, because they all lived in very close quarters. But they were able to take care of Josue, and absorb his needs into the family budget.
It’s a terrifying prospect for anybody: you’re diagnosed with a catastrophic illness. That’s bad enough – but then you can’t work, you lose your job and your medical expenses overwhelm your family.
It happens all the time. In the United States, for example, studies showed that that well over half of personal bankruptcies filed in 2007 were linked to medical expenses.
It’s worse for families that live on the cliff-edge of poverty. One debilitating illness can lead to job loss and financial disaster.
The Lima, Peru-based Socios en Salud, working with the U.S.-based Partners in Health, helped Josue by building a small, well-ventilated room for him on the roof of his family home. They made sure he understood how to protect his family from infection, and they supervised Josue’s complicated and sometimes harrowing treatment. Patients with drug-resistant TB often need daily support and encouragement. That’s because their drugs can cause side effects that - in the short term - feel worse than the disease itself.
Now that Josue has completed the two-year slog of treatment, he’s eager to get back to work, and contribute to his family. But it’s hard for someone with his medical history to find a conventional job. Employers are reluctant to hire someone who has been out sick for two years.
That’s why entrepreneurial training for recovered patients is such an innovative and important idea. Socios en Salud invites patients to training seminars where they learn the basics of starting their own small business. Josue, for example, plans to buy clothing at a central market place, and re-sell it in small, far-flung local markets, saving his neighbors the cost and trouble of transport into town.
You have to ask yourself, what would I do? If I had to start from scratch, and come up with a plan to earn my living solo, what would I do? What skills or service could I offer my neighbors? Would I be able to earn enough to keep my family afloat?
If everything you have was lost, and you had to start again - what value could you provide for your neighbors? What if you lived in the hillside outskirts of Lima, Peru? Could you raise chickens? Mend shoes? Weave blankets? Drive a tuk-tuk motorbike and carry passengers? Start a business of your own?
I admire the creativity and courage of Josue and others like him we met in Lima. I can’t help but wonder what a similar program could accomplish back home in the States.
Carol Cassidy is a producer for Global Health Frontline News.
To see the video news story go to http://www.ghfn.org/3-stories_videos-individual/health-wealth