“I was afraid and thought I was going to die,” Shukria says in a hoarse voice, a tear escaping her eye as she remembers more difficult days. “It was horrifying to see my two brothers crawling on their hands – I thought they were dying, [too]. It was sad to receive looks of pity from the eyes of others as they watched us cautiously from afar. It was painful to feel sick. It robbed me of my health and my physical abilities. It made me decline psychologically [such that I was ready] to succumb to the disease.”
Shukria is in her 30s. The eldest sister of three brothers, she lives with her family on the outskirts of the Al-Alam area of Salah al-Din Governorate.
“In the winter of 2018, my brother came home with a cough. His illness worsened within days. With continuously increasing heat in his body and a loss of the desire to eat, his body was completely helpless. Within weeks, his weight decreased to such a large extent that he lost the ability to stand and walk. We didn’t know what was happening to him – though we went to many doctors, they were unable to diagnose his condition,” Shukria tells us.
“During that period, I caught the infection, along with my younger brother. The same symptoms started to appear in us. I was feeling pains in different parts of my body, I was hallucinating because of my body’s high temperature. We were taking quick steps towards death before we were identified by a team of doctors working with IOM and diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB).”
Iraq is considered to have one of the highest rates of TB in the Middle East and North Africa. Since 2014, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) crisis and subsequent military operations to retake the areas under ISIL control further deteriorated Iraq’s capacity to manage TB across the country.
The humanitarian situation in the country continues to be volatile, and over one million people remain in displacement, with around 180,000 still living in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). IOM works in IDP, returnee and host communities to support Iraq’s National Tuberculosis Programme (NTP) to curb TB across the country.
Shukria and her brothers were referred and transported to a specialized TB centre for examination. Doctors prescribed them doses of medicine on precise dates according to the NTP treatment guidelines, and they received periodic examinations during the course of treatment, all free of charge. IOM Iraq’s medical team also supported them with directly observed therapy (DOT), treatment follow up and care, as well as food packages to improve their overall health.
Initially, Shukria’s brothers were resistant to taking the medicine, but she was determined that they all make it through this together. Despite her weakened state, Shukria successfully worked with medical team members to support her brothers through treatment.
“We started to feel our health gradually return and [saw] a noticeable improvement in our body weights,” Shukria recalls.
After six months of treatment and follow up by IOM Iraq’s medical team, Shukria fully recovered from TB. Two months later, her two brothers were completely cured, too.
Shukria smiles, “After recovering from the disease and surviving that bitter experience, I feel that we have been born again.”
In conjuction with the NTP, IOM Iraq’s MMTs were able to assist Shukria and her brothers thanks to support from The Global fund Continued support is needed to bolster the NTP’s ability to respond to TB cases and reduce TB rates across the country.
Story by Sarah Ali IOMIraq 2022