Tanzania – Nilham

Nilham and her aunt Salama

Salama, Nilham’s aunt shares her perspective on 5-year-old Nilham’s journey recovering from tuberculosis.

Nilham is under her mother’s care, while her father lives elsewhere in Dar es Salaam. Despite their separation, he does provide for Nilham. As for me, I live with Nilham, and I have been taking care of her every day since she was 2 years old. We live in a house that Nilham’s grandmother (my mother) built for us. It’s been a blessing.

Nilham doesn’t have any siblings, but I am also taking care of her cousin (my brother’s son). It’s just the three of us. Nilham’s mother travels for work a lot and is away most of the year moving from town to town, trading. I don’t have a husband yet, but I find strength and love in caring for the children. I never had much luck finding work and there’s plenty to do at home. My focus is taking care of my niece and nephew. We are lucky to get support from Nilham’s grandmother and mother too, who provide for us. Both kids attend school, Nilham is in Nursery and I’m proud of her. Education is important for her future.

During the holiday, Nilham’s father came to pick her up to go stay with him, but when he brought her back, she was coughing. It was concerning, especially when Nilham’s paternal grandmother called to inform me that Nilham’s father was also coughing. I immediately reached out to Nilham’s mother and shared the news, and she advised me to take Nilham to the hospital for testing. I took both children to the hospital. They had an X-ray and provided sputum samples for testing for tuberculosis (TB). Afterward, we returned home, hoping for the best. The next day, I received a phone call that sunk my heart. It was confirmed by APOPO and the HeroRATs that Nilham had tested positive for TB. It’s incredible to think that a rat can help save lives. I’m grateful for organizations like APOPO that train despised animals. Their work must continue, the hospital told us it’s normally very hard to find TB in young children.

Nilham’s health became our utmost priority. With the guidance of healthcare professionals, we started the treatment plan. In the beginning she was weak and sleepy all the time. But now, we’re doing better. Since starting treatment, Nilham has improved significantly. The persistent coughing and flu-like symptoms have subsided. I used to worry about her, taking her to the hospital often. But now, she’s stronger and gaining weight.
Getting to the hospital hasn’t been easy. We travel first by motorbike taxi and then take two minibuses, which takes a long time and costs a lot (around 7,000 shillings) for the round trip. Nilham needs to take her medication every day, so we make a weekly visit to pick up her medication. Thankfully her medication is provided free of charge by the government.

When we first started, we received a week’s worth of medicine, but recently, we’ve been fortunate to receive a month’s supply. It’s a relief, knowing we have what we need for her to get better and it’s less of a strain on our finances.

One of the biggest challenges is medication. Nilham sometimes struggles to take them voluntarily. It’s become a delicate balance. I have to be creative, finding ways to make her eat so that the medication doesn’t overwhelm her. I’ve been living with the children for three years now, and it has been challenging but rewarding. Our bond grows stronger every day, and I wouldn’t change a thing. We’ve faced our fair share of hardships, but love and perseverance have carried us through.”

It can be difficult to diagnose TB in children. This is because there are far less TB bacteria in children than in adults.

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