By Roger Muller, Marshall Islands Red Cross Society

Marshall Islands Red Cross volunteers are working with the government to conduct a mass tuberculosis and leprosy screening in the North Pacific nation where it is estimated that one in four people are positive with tuberculosis.

Globally, the Marshall Islands ranks in the top ten countries with tuberculosis occurrence and top three for leprosy. While both diseases are infectious, they are both curable and screening is the first step for treatment.

Secretary General of Marshall Islands Red Cross Jack Niedenthal says the Ministry of Health was looking for volunteers to help with the screening and Red Cross had the volunteers to help, so the society stepped up and offered their services.

“This is an issue that impacts families and communities across our country. Our volunteers are in a good position to help, they are from these communities, they are known and trusted, which makes them a very effective resource.”

Marshall Islands Red Cross volunteers are supporting the medical teams with a range of duties including logistics, data collection, and door-to-door awareness. They are also supporting visits to people who have been identified as having tuberculosis to ensure that they are correctly and regularly taking their medication.

One of these volunteers is Crystal Komen, who like all the Red Cross volunteers involved in the screening, is a volunteer from the Marshall Islands Red Cross youth network.

Crystal, who is training to become a nurse, joined the volunteer screening team because she wanted to help and learn more about public health issues.

“There are so many people who are sick with tuberculosis, it is important that we address this and support them to get better, and to keep their families and communities healthy, too.

“There are a lot of challenges, for some people there is a lot of shame in having tuberculosis, so it can be a hard process for them, but we are committed to helping them and understanding the need to take medications to get better.”

Dr. Richard Brostrom, a tuberculosis medical officer from the Center for Disease Control says that the project is not about counting who has tuberculosis, but instead about curing those who have the disease.

“We can ‘move the needle’ to give Marshall Islanders the help and public health they deserve.”

The screening programme started in Majuro, the capital of Marshall Islands, in June and will run until December 2018 with an aim to reach 26,000 people.