It was about noon on a calm Tuesday and I could hear music playing smoothly from a distance as I walked closer to one of Nairobi’s popular nightclubs. As I approached the entrance, the beats got louder and faster. On the decks was Eliud Chichi, popularly known as Dj Eddy a celebrated Tuberculosis (TB) Champion who earns his living as a disk jockey (DJ), a trade that serves as a source of livelihood for him, but also as a hobby. As I sat down for a chat with him, I observed that he was very heavily dressed in what he explained as his daily dress code to beat the chilly Nairobi weather as the cold was not good for him as he suffers a lung complication. So, who is Eddy Chichi?” I asked as the interview started.
Eddy Chichi is a renowned music disc jockey in Nairobi and is famed for entertaining revellers with the latest musical hits. He is talented in mixing music and members of his audience subconsciously find themselves nodding their heads to the beat. As the music changes and the lights flash from one end to the other, he wows the crowd and a number quickly move to the dance floor. It is hard to resist the temptation and one is often drawn to their feet to shake to the beats.
Eddie grew up a vibrant boy in the coastal town of Mombasa, he loved deep sea diving and would often spend his pass time engaging in swimming and music activities. After completing his studies, he did not waste time thinking of anything less than following his passion, which was to play music in nightclubs. A career he pursued with much zest that it finally became a full-time activity. This was however interrupted by what started as just a cough in 1994. At first, he dismissed it as a normal cold hoping that it would go away. The cough however persisted and he had to visit a health centre to seek treatment. He was diagnosed with the flu and put on treatment but the problem continued. He went back to the health centre and this time he was diagnosed with pneumonia.
He was put on antibiotics but again he was not cured. He diligently took his medication but ended up developing some respiratory complications. His mother advised him to visit the Port Reitz District Hospital which is now a sub-County Hospital where an x-ray was done and he was finally diagnosed with TB. He was put on TB treatment and resumed work at a nightclub in South Coast. For about ten years, he was plagued by a cough that would come and go from time to time. In as much as he was under treatment, the cough did not completely go away. In 2004, he went for a culture test, which confirmed that he had developed resistance to three main TB medicines Rifampicin, Isoniazid and Ethambutol.
In 2007, he lost a considerable amount of weight from 78 to 35 kilograms, which caused him to be bedridden for some months, to the point where relatives and friends started spreading rumours that he was dead. He moved to Nairobi to seek further treatment where he was found to have resistance to all the TB drugs. Another culture test was done at the Kangemi Health Centre, which confirmed this. He was referred to the Kenyatta National referral hospital for further diagnosis and it was confirmed that he had Multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB. Life took a dramatic change for Eddy who now had to cope with taking medicine daily.
Eddy was among the first TB patients to be put on MDR TB treatment in Kenya. It was such a difficult journey as he not only faced stigma from family, but also from health care workers (HCWs) who would address him from a distance while wearing masks. He was put on 11 months’ injection, with the daily dilemma of swallowing 29 drugs in the morning and an additional nine in the evening. His life had taken on a sudden and unexpected twist. Eddy was however determined to fight for his life. As he regained strength, he joined other TB patients in community sensitizations.
Sadly, after the treatment one of his lungs collapsed, a problem that saw him develop a breathing complication and he often struggles to gasp for air. Sadly, this condition cannot allow him to engage in vigolous activities including his favourite sport swimming. He understands that all is not lost and he exudes a tenacious spirit. He has established close association with several organisations including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), churches and health facilities where he volunteers as a TB champion to advocate for TB, and sensitise people on TB preventive measures, adherence and helps in demystifying myths. Through these forums, he gets opportunities to interact with policy makers who are key in making decisions on efforts to reduce the burden of TB in Kenya.
Having battled TB for 14 years, he participates in campaigns and events like World TB Day every year where he shares his experience to encourage others to get tested as TB is curable. His new focus is in finding the missing TB cases as illustrated through the recently released findings from the Kenya’s first post-independence TB prevalence survey. The findings show that the burden of TB is higher than previously thought and that 40% of the TB cases are being missed. What was more alarming and of interest to him was the fact that the cases among men were twice as high as those of women due to their poor health seeking behaviour.
Through this expression of interest, Eddy was selected to attend the USAID funded, Regional Capacity Building workshop for Africa TB Champions’ in Accra, Ghana in July 2017. This was an opportunity geared towards reaching out to those affected by TB as their voices can help reduce stigma, accelerate investment in TB, advocate for a transition to patient-friendly approaches and raise the profile of TB. As a man who suffered TB, he clearly understands that men do not often visit health facilities whenever they have a health problem and rather visit the pharmacy for over the counter medication. This is one of the reasons why they get misdiagnosed and by the time they get to know the real problem, the disease is at an advanced level.
“Through the skills gained from this workshop, I will partner with other TB control partners and lead active case finding activities especially in areas where we can find men,” he says. This will include entertainment joints, sporting events, places of work, higher education institutions and pharmacies.