About 20 000 South Africans contract drug resistant tuberculosis every year. The staggering figure is on the increase despite the country boasting the largest HIV and TB treatment programme in the world. Deputy Director at the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (Caprisa) Doctor Nesri Padayatchi says despite the high numbers, the country is leading the global TB response.
She credits world class health policies, new diagnostics and ground breaking research as tools in tackling the disease. “About 6 or 7 years ago, finally after about 60 years, there was a new drug called Bedaqulyn. There are a couple of other new drugs like Delaminid. These new drugs are all taken orally and have relatively few side effects. The South African government is on board with rolling it out. SA has rolled out the largest number of expert machines in the whole world, it’s very exciting. It’s a little cartridge and you put a good quality specimen in it, you stick it in a machine, two hours later you have a result.”
Padayatchi says stigma remains a massive barrier to people coming forward to get tested for TB. “Several years ago, somebody said to me I would rather have HIV than drug resistant TB and I thought, why on earth would you say that? Even drug resistant TB is potentially curable. HIV is not. Patients have said I fell sick they diagnosed me with HIV, they put me on treatment I felt better. Drug resistant TB, I felt sick they put me on treatment and I felt worse.”