There is life after MDR TB...

Hello… my name is Zolelwa Sifumba… And I’m a Multidrug resistant TB survivor… :)

I can’t believe it either... I made it :)

Zolelwa Sifumba, tuberculosis survivor

Hello… my name is Zolelwa Sifumba… And I’m a Multidrug resistant TB survivor… :)

I can’t believe it either... I made it :)

… 18 months of that HORRIBLE treatment that took my sanity and threatened to take my hearing, my liver function, my kidney function and my life… It's months later now but every few moments it hits me that I don’t have to take those 21 pills before bedtime, that I don’t have to sleep upright tonight, that I don’t have to sit close to the toilet after taking my pills anticipating them all to come out with the rest of the contents of my stomach… FREEDOM… HEALTH… It feels so good. Yes, there is life after TB…

15th of November 2012 I was diagnosed…

15th of May 2014 I was officially cured…

Five months later and it all feels like it was a horrible nightmare… It feels like it was all a different life… At times I can’t believe that it happened to me… but then the scars on my chest and the bumps on my bottom remind me. They speak of a journey, one of loneliness, pain, tears and finally salvation. They speak of my road to recovery. They speak of a different kind of medical training.

I would like to take a moment right now to just think of all those that did not make it. All those for which life could not continue… The millions who lost their lives while fighting drug resistant tuberculosis. All those that are currently fighting drug resistant TB and are losing the battle.  All those that will not make it.  That is exactly what it is, a fight. Not just a personal fight, but a GLOBAL FIGHT.

One major problem is that many believe that the fight is fought only in the hospitals and the clinics by medical doctors and other health care workers. Yes, that is one major arena where the fight is taking place but it is not the only one. This fight needs to be fought by us all, not just by the health care workers and the patients but the community at large. The government needs to play its part, the policy makers need to play their part, the drug developers need to play their part. Everyone that breathes needs to play their part because we are all at risk. We all play a vital role in this fight and we need to TAKE ACTION… We need to DEMAND ACTION!

Being the curious medical student as well as the drug resistant TB advocate that I am, I recently attended and spoke at the MDR/XDR-TB Conference in Cape Town, South Africa representing TB Proof. I learned many interesting things there.

Currently it can take anything from 4 to 6 weeks to fully diagnose a drug resistant form of TB. What does this mean? That people are being covered by inadequate drugs until a full diagnosis can be made. During this time they are triaged as low risk patients, either being allowed to stay in the general wards infecting others or if they are relatively well are being allowed to go back into the community and continuing to spread this dangerous form of TB. Knowing fully well that there are some strains that cannot be cured using the drugs we have, namely totally drug resistant TB.  So for every one case you have diagnosed perhaps there are a few more out there that contracted it from that very person. We also know that inadequately treated TB can also lead to further resistance. So needless to say, we NEED access to diagnostics that can detect drug resistant forms TB in a shorter space of time.

Firstly, we need these diagnostics to be made and tested which requires funding as well as hard work.

We also need any new, faster diagnostics that are in the pipeline to be tested, approved and rolled out. It is important for this area of care to be improved because we have an open tap with water falling all over the floor. It is important to catch the water as it falls so as to limit the mess it forms, meaning we need to diagnose the cases of TB fast so we can start treating them adequately to prevent loss of life, as well as prevent further transmission of the resistant form of TB. To stop the problem the tap actually needs to be closed. In other words we need to go back to basics and STOP the transmission of TB.

Before I was diagnosed with MDR-TB I made sure I did not come into contact with a person that had TB in the hospital. I did this by not entering any of the isolation rooms, where the patients with MDR were supposed to be. I still contracted TB and to this day I have no idea who I contracted it from or whether they ended up being diagnosed or treated. This is quite scary.

PLEASE, we need better diagnostics!