Friends of the Global Fight, together with our colleagues at RESULTS, interviewed Luwiza Makukula, a powerful advocate, tuberculosis survivor and beneficiary of Global Fund support. Luwiza was in the U.S. for meetings with grassroots advocates in various cities. During her visit to Washington, D.C., Friends had the chance to speak with her about her experience and the impact of Global Fund investments on tuberculosis in her home country of Zambia.
Imagine not only losing your husband, but then facing two deadly diseases in the span of just a few months. In 2001-2002, Luwiza Makukula experienced that exact scenario when she was diagnosed first with tuberculosis and then HIV.
Co-infections like Luwiza’s are, unfortunately, a very common occurrence. Because HIV compromises the immune system, it is easier for those who have it to contract tuberculosis. As tuberculosis attacks the body, it triggers a response that activates HIV genes. As a result, tuberculosis is the largest global killer of people living with HIV.
Shortly after her diagnoses, Luwiza began taking antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to treat her HIV — a costly treatment which her family helped to pay for by pooling their resources.
“Many of my friends and family who were eligible for treatment could not afford to purchase ARVs in Zambia,” Luwiza said. “At that time, I was one of the very lucky ones to have the support of my family.”
Luwiza’s family bore the burden of the cost of her treatment for only a few months. Shortly after she began her regimen, the government of Zambia, with the support of a Global Fund grant, began providing ARVs free of charge, helping not only Luwiza, but thousands more who could not previously afford treatment. Today, of the estimated 415,000 people on ARVs in Zambia, 400,000 of those are receiving their medication through Global Fund financing.
Today, Luwiza is free of tuberculosis, is on an ARV regimen and is well and productive.
The benefits Luwiza experienced as a result of the Global Fund encouraged her to change her career path entirely. Today, she focuses on educating citizens not only of her community, but the world, about tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria.
“As soon as I was well enough, I began a support group for people living with HIV/AIDS, many of whom are also tuberculosis survivors,” she explained. “We work with communities to monitor tuberculosis patients, ensuring they complete their treatment, which is necessary to not only cure tuberculosis, but to prevent drug resistance.”
Luwiza also works for the Community Initiative for Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and Malaria (CITAM+), an NGO that works to educate Zambians on the prevention and treatment of the three diseases and reduce the stigma associated with tuberculosis and HIV. Additionally, they train communities to provide psychosocial counseling and to promote treatment adherence and literacy for patients. They have served on the Global Fund Board representing the “communities” constituency.
Luwiza’s story is an example of the remarkable results Zambia has achieved in recent years with respect to tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria. Thanks to the work of the Global Fund and its in-country partners, there has been a gradual decline in the number of new and relapse tuberculosis cases, the number of deaths due to HIV/AIDS has dropped, and 73% of households now have access to one or more insecticide-treated nets or other malaria control methods such as indoor residual spraying.
As for Luwiza, she credits being alive today to her will to live for her daughters and to the Global Fund. Because of the ARVs, she continues to become healthier each day, and she has watched her daughters grow up and have children of their own. Staying healthy is especially important now that she has two grandchildren to keep up with. She also looks forward to her continued work as an advocate for better health in Zambia and the world.
You can follow Luwiza on Twitter @luwi62.