It’s been a few weeks since Tamaryn Green won the 2018 Miss South Africa title and has officially announced that because of her battle with tuberculosis, she is focusing on the disease as her official year of reign campaign. Every Miss South Africa titleholder has an opportunity during her year of reign to adopt a cause or launch a campaign which it is hoped, because of her high profile, makes a difference in the lives of many.

Tamaryn – who was a sixth-year medical student at UCT when she took the Miss South Africa crown earlier this year – was diagnosed with occupationally acquired TB three years ago but failed to share her story because of the stigma associated with it.

Throughout this new #breakthestigma campaign, Tamaryn hopes to raise awareness of global and national TB campaigns, with the hope that people suffering from tuberculosis will come out of the shadows and are not stigmatised. The campaign will be run alongside the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Department of Health.

We caught up with the reigning queen to chat about her exciting new campaign:

Why did you choose to focus on TB?

My campaign aims at breaking the stigma around tuberculosis and raising awareness around this global issue. It serves as another working step towards a TB-free world. I chose this cause because I am a survivor of TB. In 2015 I was diagnosed with TB and failed to share my story because of the stigma associated with it. This made the process of diagnosis and treatment much harder and more traumatic. TB is one of the top 10 killers worldwide and if telling my story can help reduce that prevalence I will be very happy.

You were a final year medical student when you were crowned Miss SA – what will this bring to your TB outreach?

Being a sixth-year medical student allowed me to witness the TB problem first hand. It has helped me identify the need for this outreach and through my studies I have a better understanding of the disease, allowing me to stand stronger in support of this project. The experience with patient doctor interaction also helps me relate and empathise with those who have been affected by this disease.

Tell us about your personal journey with TB

I was officially diagnosed by an infectious specialist in June 2015, after a number of tests and I started treatment immediately. I made the decision not to tell any of my extended family and friends for fear of being treated differently and being isolated as this often happens with TB patients. In my second month of treatment I could no longer handle the discomfort of sitting through lectures. I then spoke to my lecturer who immediately got me help from a specialist doctor at Groote Schuur. The university was very supportive throughout the process and offered counselling. My treatment continued until I developed a hepatitis secondary to the medication. This was when it got really bad. I felt ill every day for a month and I deferred my exams and moved back home. My medication was then changed and soon I started feeling better until eventually I was cured. The whole story was more traumatic than I ever allowed myself to admit. It not only affected me but also my immediate family and close friends.

What did you learn?

I grew and learned so much about myself through the process. I always saw myself as a strong and independent woman. While being ill I was vulnerable and needed help. I learned that you don’t have to deal with everything by yourself. I was disappointed in myself for falling ill, placing more strain on my family and deferring an exam as a third-year medical student. Speaking about this now is hopefully not only helping other people speak up but is also helping me process and deal with what happened.

In 2014, the World Health Assembly adopted WHO’s End TB Strategy to eliminate the global TB epidemic by 2035, by reducing 90% of TB cases. Do you think this is going to happen?

I believe it is very possible but will require a lot of implementation and strategising.

How is it possible that the world’s deadliest infectious disease is actually curable, but still killed nearly 1.7 million people last year? Year on year, we learn that there are more cases of drug-resistant (DR) forms of tuberculosis (TB), yet the diagnostic gap remains massive: Four in five people with DR-TB remain undiagnosed, and only half of those started on treatment are cured. Comments?

There are a number of reasons for this. TB is not spoken about enough. We need more attention drawn to the issue. Treatment is given but not enough counselling around the disease and importance of adherence is done. Access to health facilities are not always possible for many people. This prevents diagnosis, follow-up is often lost and people never get their diagnosis and treatment. The stigma around TB makes disclosure to families and friends very difficult and often discourages patients attending clinics. There is a lot of shaming and blaming of patients around this disease.

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