It’s the beginning of a month and I’m doing the monthly report, counting how many patients came in, left, and are still on treatment. Our cohort grows more each month as more people are admitted than discharged. Treatment for TB takes 6 months, and if there’s drug resistance, that can last up to 2 years. The first few months are the hardest for patients, and they are usually hospitalized.
I got an email from a friend telling me about the Fully Sick Rapper (check him out on YouTube). He’s an Australian who was infected with MDRTB and is now quarantined in a hospital room in Sydney. Apparently he’s been there since mid-January. After watching as much TV and as many DVDs, or reading as many books and magazines as he could handle, the inevitable happened – boredom. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he started making rap videos and posting them online. I’ve heard that his videos have “gone viral” – that over half a million people have watched him dance around in his hospital gown rapping about being on DOT, directly observed therapy. And people care. He’s probably done more for raising awareness of TB than all of us in public health combined. I’d really like to thank him, because any attention to this situation is overdue.
Last month MSF released a report about why they closed their mission in Turkmenistan in 2009. They even had press conferences in Moscow and Berlin. Apparently the country’s official numbers regarding the health of its people doesn’t match what MSF itself witnessed. People with an infectious disease may be turned away from receiving treatment because the “quota” for that certain disease in the hospital they had turned to might have already been reached. MSF is concerned about hazardous medical practices such as the transfusion of unscreened blood products and about the lack of access to diagnosis and treatment for patients with multi drug resistant tuberculosis. But I didn’t see any of that in the news – did you?
As I prepare this month’s monitoring reports, information that helps keep track of our program’s progress, I keep an eye on the bigger picture. Two billion people are estimated to be infected with TB, that’s a third of the planet. Only about 10% will develop the disease in their lifetime, but still, about 2 million die from it every year. I counted five last month here in Nukus.