Yesterday, Jonathan Smith, epidemiologist and director of ‘They Go To Die’, received news that the only surviving miner in the film-Mr Mkoko-has been hospitalised with tuberculosis again.To find out more about Mr Mkoko’s condition and what you can do to help, have a read of this personal message from Jonathan Smith and share with your networks. Our thoughts and messages of support go out to Mr Mkoko and his family during this difficult time.

This week I received a call from Nozipho Mkoko (Musa Mkoko’s wife) informing me that Mr. Mkoko has been hospitalised with tuberculosis. Today, the Mkoko family granted me permission to share this news with you all. As many of you know, Mr. Mkoko is the only surviving miner from the film, They Go to Die. His recent TB infection is an externally acquired infection, not a reinfection of his previous multi-drug resistant TB.  At the end of this message I have listed direct ways to help, as well as how to access an unpublished link to a clip of Mr. Mkoko from the film. I invite you to watch.

Credit: Jonathan Smith
Credit: Jonathan Smith

This news is extremely worrisome, and though the facts that he is receiving care in Swaziland and that his TB is treatable mitigates some of the worry, we must also remember that there are intense mental and psychological effects of such a diagnosis. Though the treatment for drug susceptible TB is less intense, it is by no means considered a simple treatment; one’s family would not be ‘relieved’ that they were diagnosed with a different form of cancer. As you can imagine, this news has been mentally and emotionally devastating to not only him, but also his family and community.

It is easy to assume that ‘care’ equals ‘cure.’ We are fortunate that the Swaziland Health Minister Benedict Xaba has greatly improved care and that access to medication is no longer a hurdle. But given his physical state – weak, emaciated – and that his TB is complicated by HIV, a favourable outcome is neither guaranteed nor probable. This all too seriously highlights the continued battle that high-risk individuals have for contracting TB. Mr. Mkoko’s family will fight tooth and nail to ensure his well-being, just as they did during his last battle, and just as they would if they faced one hundred battles more, but he is weaker, older, and his lungs are lacerated from spending decades in the dusty mineshafts where he once worked.

If you are like me, you empathize with Mr. Mkoko and have the urge to want to ‘do something.’ But we should remember our version of the TB epidemic is not the same as Mr. Mkokos, however our epidemic is equally as challenging. As the family of Mr. Mkoko fights their own battles, we must realize that our fight is not in the dim lit homes of a Swazi house. Our role is not to change the wet sheets of a shivering father who has perspired through them, or in navigating public transport for a full day to secure a blister pack of pills. Our fight is to ensure that those fighting these battles have the tools they need to win; that the Global Fund is funded, that the research and innovation we need comes to fruition, that TB REACH is expanded, that the mines lower risk, and that data-driven policies that support patient centered care are rolled out. In continuing to fight the battles we face in our epidemic, we can ensure that future patients avoid illness and physical and mental distress. Though being behind a lab bench or keyboard can often times seem distant, it is equally as important as being in the field.

The TB epidemic will not be overcome in a single broad, sweeping gesture – rather success will manifest itself in sustaining the countless individual efforts fought daily around the globe. It is up to us to define our own fight.

I ask that you keep Mr. Mkoko in your thoughts and prayers. He is one case out of the 8.7 million cases of TB in the world at present, but he represents the positive side of fighting an epidemic – that people can overcome incredible obstacles. He and his family are a representation of why we all fight to overcome TB.

If you would like to help the Mkoko family, you can do so in the following ways:

1) Email the family a message of hope and compassion. We have set up Mrs. Mkoko with a Gmail account that she can check periodically. Click here to email the Mkoko Family.

2) Donate to directly support Mr. Mkoko’s care. We have created a special fund for the Mkoko Family. We are not soliciting funds per se, but this is indeed a tangible way we can help; sometimes defining our fight is as simple as sustaining the efforts of others. Click here to donate

3) If you haven’t yet done so, download our letter and email your MP demanding that the UK fully fund the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and TB REACH. You can find your MP’s details at

4) To access the clip, click here and use the password ‘mkoko.’ I will leave this up for about two weeks.


Jonathan Smith