In March 2013, 24-year old Allen Joshua “AJ” Tortosa was diagnosed with TB. He was a first-year college student then when he started to experience flu-like symptoms such as fever and cough that lasted for more than two weeks. Later on, the confirmatory results came out that he had Drug Susceptible-TB (DS-TB) infection.

 

As a persevering college student with full of dreams and determination, he refused to stop studying and continued his treatment despite the side effects that he was experiencing. However, as months went by, his condition worsened so he was prompted to undergo GeneXpert for further testing. This was when he found out that his condition progressed to Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (DR-TB), an offshoot of TB that is resistant to one or more first line anti-TB medications.

Aside from TB, AJ has been battling Diabetes Mellitus Type I since high school. He had to take insulin daily to manage his sugar levels. Unfortunately, as his family decided to stop his medication, this made him more vulnerable to TB.

As a DR-TB patient, AJ underwent 20 months of treatment and had to endure taking 13 pieces of medicine every day and numerous injections for 8 months. The effects of these medications took a toll not only on his physical attributes but also on his mental and behavioral capacities. Due to this, he was forced to stop his schooling for two years.
During the course of his treatment, he found his refuge with other TB patients. He said that being part of their support group made it a lot easier to ease the burden that a TB patient would normally carry.

Despite the hardships that he underwent, he was able to finish his studies with the help of his former professor. Becoming TB-Free molded AJ to be the person he is today.
AJ is now an active advocate and board secretary of TBpeople Philippines Organization Inc, a non-profit organization composed of Tuberculosis survivors who aim to solve the socio-economic barriers faced by the affected community. Interacting with other TB patients and survivors allows AJ to be more optimistic and tenacious in handling his life problems.

AJ Tortosa gives a talk among children during his stint at the Rotary Club of Intramuros.

“You will never know a thing until you experienced it by yourself,” AJ said.

Asked about how he can help the Philippine government to improve its TB services, AJ said that he wants to focus in the academe and workplace settings. He wants to push for alternative learning system (ALS) for those students affected by TB so that they can still continue their education despite being under treatment. Meanwhile, he also wants to strengthen anti-discrimination laws in favor of TB patients and survivors so that they can apply for jobs without any difficulties.
Now that the country is battling the COVID-19 pandemic, AJ said that it’s an opportunity for the country to eradicate misconceptions and stigma about TB.

“I always want to eradicate the misconceptions and stigma that get thrown to TB patients and survivors especially now that we have a respiratory disease pandemic that makes TB stigma more apparent. Social stigma often prevents people from seeking early diagnosis and treatment,” AJ said.

 

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