Young Mother Recovers from Tuberculosis and COVID-19 In Peru

Partners In Health provides medical care, social support

Posted on Mar 24, 2022

Flormila Antaurco and her children at their home in Carabayllo.
Flormila Antaurco and her children at their home in Carabayllo. Photo by Melissa Estefany Toledo Soldevilla / PIH.

Each morning, Flormila Antaurco emptied dozens of pills from carefully labeled bottles in her home in Carabayllo, Peru.

The first 11 were prescribed for her. The others, for her children.

“It was painful to watch,” she recalls. “It hurt their throats…I had to break the pills and give them in liquids [like] juice or water.”

But it’s what the doctor had told the 29-year-old mother to do, ever since she was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

It wasn’t a diagnosis Antaurco was expecting.

She had just begun to recover from COVID-19 when her cough returned and lasted for more than two weeks, followed by fatigue, weight loss, and a fever. A free screening at a mobile clinic run by Socios En Salud, as Partners In Health is known in Peru, revealed the news: she had tuberculosis, as well as COVID-19.

“At the beginning, I was very afraid,” she says. “I was afraid of infecting my family…And I was afraid to confirm it because of what people would think of me.”

A health worker holds the results of a chest x-ray.
Once inside the TB Móvil truck, patients receive a chest X-ray and, if necessary, a sputum test, the results of which are delivered in mere minutes thanks to advanced automated radiography and GeneXpert machines—two technologies that would otherwise be unavailable to poor patients. Photo by Melissa Estefany Toledo Soldevilla / PIH.

A Silent Killer

Tuberculosis is one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases, despite being curable and preventable. Each year, 10 million people contract the airborne disease and 1.4 million die—a burden that disproportionately affects low- and middle-income countries like Peru, which has one of the highest incidence rates of tuberculosis in the Americas.

Socios En Salud has worked in Peru since 1994, when it responded to an uncontrolled outbreak of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), an especially deadly form of the disease, in Carabayllo, an impoverished community about 20 miles north of Lima. The response, which ultimately saved thousands of lives, prompted the World Health Organization to change its global MDR-TB policy, as shown in Bending the Arc.  

In the years since, Socios En Salud has expanded its tuberculosis work, delivering that care in clinics, blue trucks, and backpacks in Lima, Carabayllo, and beyond. That care has continued even amid COVID-19. More than 670 people received screenings for tuberculosis and COVID-19 at Socios En Salud’s mobile clinics between August and September 2020—an effort that proved especially crucial for patients like Antaurco, who had both diseases at once.

Patients await testing and care at TB Móvil.
Patients await testing and care from Socios En Salud's TB Móvil. Photo by Melissa Estefany Toledo Soldevilla / PIH.

A Second Chance

The diagnosis wasn’t the only thing that frightened Antaurco. The treatment would be long—at least six months—and painful.

“I felt very bad,” she says. “I could only cry.”

Treatment for tuberculosis is notoriously grueling, with side effects including fever and nausea, even as global efforts like the endTB project are on a mission to change that. EndTB is a multi-year R&D effort launched by Partners In Health and other NGOs to discover safer, shorter treatments for MDR-TB in 17 countries, including Peru.

Antaurco was prescribed four medications for tuberculosis for six months—a daunting treatment plan to follow, especially as she struggled to manage the symptoms of the disease. But she wasn’t alone.

To help Antaurco follow her treatment plan and navigate Peru’s complex health system, Socios En Salud connected her with Cristina Capristano, a community health worker.

“[Flormila is] a very brave woman,” says Capristano. “She never gave up.”

For the next six months, Capristano checked in with Antaurco at home, went with her to the clinic for check-ups, and helped her refill her prescriptions—providing the accompaniment at the heart of PIH’s community health worker program worldwide, as teams from Peru to Lesotho recruit local residents and train them to provide basic health services in their communities.

Cristina Capristano (left) and Flormila Antaurco. Photo by Melissa Estefany Toledo Soldevilla / PIH.
Cristina Capristano (left) and Flormila Antaurco (right). Photo by Melissa Estefany Toledo Soldevilla / PIH.

Capristano, 45, has been a community health worker with Socios En Salud for more than a decade. Through the years, she has supported several patients living with tuberculosis. Each case is unique; but for Capristano, each evokes similar feelings.

“At Socios En Salud, I have met many patients who overcame TB,” she says. “It is very rewarding to be part of the recovery process. That is priceless.”

Antaurco’s long-awaited recovery came in September 2021, when she was declared free of tuberculosis. For the first time in months, she felt like she could breathe again.

“I thank God for giving me a new chance at life,” she says. “Let’s put aside the stigmas that surround this disease and the fear of what people will say. Our health comes first.”

Cristina Capristano walks through the remote hillside communities of Carabayllo.
Cristina Capristano walks through the remote hillside communities of Carabayllo, where Socios En Salud provides TB care and more. Photo by Melissa Estefany Toledo Soldevilla / PIH.

 

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