Patient Champion Spotlight: Dr. Maria José Pires Machai

July 11, 2019

During the 2019 World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Global Health Council provided several patient champions with the opportunity to share their stories, and contribute to discussions around universal health coverage (UHC). Following the Assembly, we sat down with each patient champion to get their thoughts on WHA. Hear from our patient champion Dr. Maria José Pires Machai on why ending TB is critical to leaving no one behind in the move towards UHC. As both a doctor and TB survivor, she brings a critical viewpoint to the UHC conversation.

Tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Maria José, from Mozambique. I am a medical doctor, representing FHI360’s Challenge TB project in Mozambique. I got multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB), while I was doing my post-graduation study in Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.  So, I am advocating for TB, especially for drug resistant TB, from both a health professional and patient’s point of view.

Describe one of your favorite events or one-on-one conversations during WHA, and why?  

The sessions where patients were giving their testimony on the disease that impacted their lives, specifically the one where I spoke on a panel because I felt useful to my community, being the voice of those who otherwise would never be heard. I could feel the passion of those who had experience with the diseases through the work they are doing to improve the conditions of other patients in order to educate and support those with the same conditions.

I also liked the open discussion between the different stakeholders in different areas, including civil society and community workers, as they had the same objective which literally was “leaving no one behind.”

We know this was your first time at WHA. Did anything surprise you?

Yes. The level of organization and coordination. The way people were so unified, irrespective of their status (and in different ways) for the same objective. The opportunity that was given to everyone, without looking at their status, to contribute to discussions around various health services and opportunities for better access for those less fortunate.

What were some of the main recommendations or insights that you provided on panels or discussions?

  1. The need for more allocation of domestic funds for the health programs, to guarantee the sustainability of the activity’s implementation.
  2. Improve the integration and coordination of activities and plans of different sectors, departments, and/or ministries to assure that the patients are getting the care they need, including psychosocial support (food, transport, counselling), and job preservation during treatment in order to prevent them from losing their job. Since many patients don’t have a financial source of income, they continue to catch public transportation and go to work as a means of surviving and providing for family needs. This increases the risk of disease dissemination (specifically for TB), and also their non-adherence to treatment which in turn amplifies the risk of drug resistance.
  3. Better health conditions for health workers especially those at higher risk, in order to guarantee infection control measures.

How do you plan to continue or relay these global conversations back home?

  • Sharing with my colleagues and Chief of Party in order to include the component of TB champions in our activities, and to push for provision of psychosocial support.
  • Share the important role that patients can play in the support of other patients, and disseminate the message that their voices and needs can be heard at higher levels.
  • Empower current patients, especially those finishing their treatment, to create treatment support groups.

What are your top three takeaways from the week?

  • The importance of the involvement of civil society and communities to bring about better quality and accessible health care at community and health facilities according to their needs, and the fact that they have a role to play in the monitoring of the implementation of the activities.
  • There is a need for continued interaction and coordination at all levels, and among all stakeholders to improve the results towards the sustainable development goals.
  • The importance of the availability of new diagnostic means on the early treatment initiation.