MANILA - In December 2018, "Marissa" received sad news - her two children, "Bella," then 3, and "Abby," then 6, had been diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Marissa said this came first as a shock, since her two girls were still very young, and, second, as a reason for her to keep on fighting.
"Nilalakasan ko lang po ung loob ko. Tsaka nakikita ko pa naman kasi sa mga anak ko na gusto rin po kasi nilang gumaling kaya't talagang pinagpatuloy namin at tinapos ang gamutan," she told ABS-CBN News.
(I put on a brave front. I can see that my children want to recover that's why we pursued and finished their treatment.)
Through religiously going through treatment from TB, the sisters emerged victorious from their fight against the disease, and were finally declared TB-free in December 2019.
"Sinabi ko lang po maggagamutan lang po, sabi ko lang po parang papasok lang kami sa school... Hindi ko rin naman po sila masyadong [sinabihan] kung anong hirap po ang mangyayari sa gamutan po," Marissa recounted. "Mas mataas po ung dosage nung sa bunso kasi mga tablet. Araw-araw, pitong tablets tapos may injection, araw-araw po 'yun for six months."
(I told my children, we will go through treatment, it's just like going to school. I did not make them feel how hard their treatment will be. My younger daughter had to take a higher dosage because those were tablets. She took seven tablets daily, and underwent injection every day for six months.)
Bella is now in Kindergarten, while Abby is in Grade 3. Both have recovered.
When Diwata De Castro-Paredes, Social and Behavior Change Communications Specialist of the United States Agency for International Development's TB Platforms, learned of the siblings' story, she thought of writing about their experience.
"Especially ngayon na may pandemic, may COVID-19. Kailangang makapag-draw tayo ng positive health-seeking behavior sa ating mga mamamayan, hindi lang sa mga bata, kundi sa mga magulang kung bakit kailangang mag-stay sa bahay, bakit kailangang magpagamot kung may sintomas ng TB o COVID-19," she said.
(Especially now that we are faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. We have to draw positive health-seeking behavior among citizens, not only among children, but also among parents, why we need to stay ag home, why must we be treated if TB or COVID-19 symptoms arise.)
As to why Paredes thought of telling the story of the siblings through writing, she said, "Sabi nga nila, kapag daw binabasahan mo 'yung bata ng kwento, mas malalim ung impact niya sa bata, lalo pa't itong 'Tibay ng Dibdib' ay true-to-life story ng mga bata."
(People say reading stories to children has a more significant impact, especially in the case of 'Tibay ng Dibdib, which is based on the children's true-to-life story.)
Abby has this to say to children who are going through treatment: "Makikinig at susunod po sa Mama ninyo kapag iinom na po ng gamot. Pangalawa po, lagi po uminom ng vitamins at kumain ng masustansyang pagkain at huwag na huwag po kalimutan magdasal at magpasalamat kay Papa Jesus."
(Listen and obey your mother when taking medicine. Second, always take vitamins and eat healthy food and never forget to pray and thank Papa Jesus.)
Storytelling in online classes
The book based on Bella and Abby's true story of healing will now be part of online classes for Grades 3 and 4 in Metro Manila.
Entitled "Tibay ng Dibdib," the book will be taught under MAPEH or Music, Arts, PE, and Health subject, through a Department of Education, USAID, and Department of Health partnership.
During its launch in Quezon City, Dr. Connie Gepanayao from the School Health and Nutrition Unit of DepEd-National Capital Region said the book will help in raising awareness on TB treatment.
"In our country, poor access of our people to health care has hindered greatly with the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis, thus continually increasing the pool of infected patients or the prevalence of tuberculosis. This COVID-19 pandemic will not hinder our continuing search for knowledge on how to combat this infection," she said.
For Dr. Corazon Flores, regional director of the DOH Center for Health Development in Metro Manila, storytelling is an effective way to give communities an understanding of inclusive efforts to combat TB.
"During these challenging times of COVID-19 pandemic, let us not forget that TB remains the number 1 killer among all infectious diseases. With this, I encourage everyone to take part and actively engage in ensuring that TB services are provided everywhere and shouldn't be disrupted even during this time of COVID-19 response," Flores said.
USAID expressed its support, saying community-response is timely amid the global pandemic.
"This is an inspiring tale about young children who survived TB with the support of the whole community, their family, the health facility, local government unit, and a local patient support group," said Michelle Lang-Alli, director of the Office of Health of USAID Philippines.
From 2019 to 2024, USAID has earmarked P6 billion for TB response programs in the Philippines.
Dr. Marizel Wong, medical coordinator of the National Tuberculosis Control Program of the QC Health Department, said studies show that children below 5 have a higher risk of contracting TB.
"lf you are less than 1 year old, you have a 30 to 40 percent chance of getting the disease. One to 3 years old naman po, 10 to 20 percent chance of getting the disease," she said.
In 2019, 1.2 million children globally were diagnosed with TB.
Meanwhile, Dr. Rhodora Cruz, Field Operations Area Manager of USAID's TB Platforms, said although individuals of all ages may be diagnosed with TB, it is important to prioritize the children's fight against the disease
"Actually, ang pwede nilang mahawa 'yung mga kamukha rin nilang bata. Saka po ang kabataan, hindi naman po kasi sila 'yung tipong alam nila or magco-complain sila ng kanilang signs and symptoms," aniya.
(Actually, contracting TB is possible among children. Also, children are less aware or they do not complain much when they have signs and symptoms.)
Cruz also said the stigma on those with TB must end.
"Hindi lang po sa mga kabataan, kundi pati na po sa mga adults. Sa ating parents at guardians. Kung pong ang mga bata ay may ganitong sakit, ay 'wag po natin silang pandirihan, bagkus turuan po natin silang malampasan ang treatment," she said.
(Not only among children, but also adults. Our parents and guardians. If children have this disease, let us not despise them, but encourage them to continue and be successful in their treatment.)
Preventive measures include having proper ventilation at home and clean surroundings, and eating healthy food.
"Kailangan nating kumain ng balanced diet at magkaroon ng enough sleep, eight hours of sleep. And proper exercise. Kung tutuusin po, 'yan ang mga gawin natin araw-araw para mapalakas ang ating immune system," said Cruz.
(We have to have balanced diet and enough sleep, eight hours of sleep. And proper exercise. These are daily tasks which can strengthen our immune system.)