The Post-TB Symposium: a brief review
Life happens as it does. And I missed writing. Twice.
James Clear — the author I harp on about every chance I get — says that you should never miss a habit twice. While the first miss won’t harm the entire habit-making process, missing twice does. Not writing my weekly blog set a precedent that I didn’t want to set for myself.
This blog post is about the symposium for two reasons.
One, I want to keep my promise to you. I said I’d be writing about it in the last post.
Two, I don’t want to forget anything from my first-ever symposium!
In mid-April, I was at the post-TB symposium as a delegate. The symposium was hosted at the STIAS in my favourite wine country: Stellenbosch, South Africa. I got to share my research and professional collaborations with 153 other delegates from various healthcare backgrounds. Personally, the coolest part was that I was the only media and communications-trained professional in the entire room. It literally blew my mind. And it scared the bejeezus out of me.
What is post-TB, and why is it worth considering?
As the name suggests, post-TB is what happens after being “cured” of active TB. As a bacterial, transmissible disease, TB damages the lungs. And when a person is on TB treatments, courses of antibiotics which normally last 6–9 months depending on severity, the medicines also reduce their physical capacity for a “normal” level of health and well-being.
Post-TB issues include:
Additional lung diseases from weakened lungs
Recurring TB from returning to the environment that initially caused it
Emotional and financial stress from time spent combating the disease
Loss of social and professional interactions
Incapacity to endure harsh or uncomfortable working environments (dust from mining, cold air in offices, high energy interactions for sales)
These are just a few examples of what people with post-TB face and what the symposium advocated to recognise and endorse as a worldwide issue.
What did I share?
Now, as the only media-trained professional in the room, I was definitely out of my comfort zone. Everyone there was either a pulmonologist, infectious disease specialist, community healthcare professional, or STEM-based researcher. They had years of training, decades of experience, and a knowledge base I couldn’t fathom…
What on earth could I offer them?
And that’s when I remembered to hype myself up. I was invited to attend as a delegate. I was offered a serious platform to speak about my experience and growing expertise in co-creating health communication. I was there for a reason. My presence was valid.
When I started The Freelancing Quill two years ago, I learned to be my own hype person. I had to be. Not because I didn’t have anyone in my corner but rather because I had to choose to be there for myself and what I valued before I could ask others to support it with me. It is one of my favourite lessons to lean on.
I digress; back to the symposium.
My presentation was on Day Two, so I spent Day One actively listening to everyone’s presentations and lunchtime discussions. There was a lot of talk about the need for post-TB care, lab-based results about the bacterium and the drugs used to fight it, and the surgical aftermath of treating TB that affects human bones (yeah, that’s a real thing), but not a single delegate worked with a media- or design-trained professional to get the message across to the general public.
So, when the time came, I decided to pitch my idea (and my work) to the crowd.
Despite my nervousness and dislike of ad-libbing, I went off-script and polled the audience. I asked three questions:
How many of you have an active social media account? [90% of hands in the room went up] Including WhatsApp? [all hands up]
How many of you use your social media account to share health information with your friends, family, and followers? [45% of hands in the air]
How many of you work with a media-trained professional to create and share health communication? [no one raised their hand]
There was a major silence after that last question. And at that moment, I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.
My 17 minutes of fame in front of an international delegation of science-y people led to many great discussions, ideas, and potential collaborations to support small-scale efforts for post-TB care.
You can find my presentation here.
Where to from here?
I think I’ve found an area that speaks directly to my interest in AMR. So, from here, I’ll be working with other interested delegates on ways to get WHO and the UN to recognise post-TB as a part of the TB-treatment continuum. This will ultimately involve policymakers and set up standardised guidelines on how best to provide and maintain the care people affected by post-TB issues need.