Feldgruppe
TB&Me: "It was just a routine check-up"

Nataliya was working as a shop assistant when she fell ill with what she thought was a perisistent cold. Four years later, she is fighting extensively-drug-resistant tuberculosis with the help of a new treatment that's offering hope...

In 2016, I fell ill and started treating the cold myself. For about two weeks, I had a fever of 37.2°C; it wasn’t clear why the fever wouldn’t stop. But I took some pills and didn’t think much about it.

Then, a month later, I developed a stomach ache and went to the hospital to have it checked out. I had an X-ray done in the hospital because the doctors asked me to.

Until I got ill myself, I didn’t know how difficult it was. 

It was just a routine check-up. Then they told me that I had TB and sent me to the TB hospital.  

I didn’t expect a diagnosis like this. I’d heard about TB before, but I wasn’t really interested in it.

A friend of my brother’s was in this same TB hospital. He was even in the same ward, in the same bed that I’m in now. I came here to visit him, but I never thought about the disease he had. Until I got ill myself, I didn’t know how difficult it was. 

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Nataliya, 44, from Chudniv, Ukraine, is a patient at Zhytomyr regional tuberculosis (TB) hospital
Nataliya in her room at Zhytomyr regional tuberculosis (TB) hospital

For the first few months, I was terribly depressed. I’d get up at 7 am, get dressed, go out and roam the forest around the hospital like an animal. It was because of the despair and the shock that something like this had happened to me.  

After two months of treatment, I developed an allergy to the medications.

I had a rash and itched horribly. I was scratching all the time – nothing helped. I was scratching the skin off all over my body. My skin was hard, like pigskin, and I was as red as a lobster.

My eyes were red, as if I’d been crying all night.

All this was caused by one of the drugs. Then the treatment with this drug was stopped, and I got better. 

Two years of treatment without results 

Initially, I stayed in the hospital for nine months. Then I spent a year at home having outpatient treatment. I stayed at home and didn’t go anywhere.

I only went out to buy necessities. I lived off my pension. My colleagues helped me with money and other things I needed. Friends helped me too – at first. People waited for me to come back to work. But they don’t help any longer.  

I lost a lot of friends because of the disease – before I got ill I had lots of friends. But what can you do? Apart from that, I felt fine most of the time during that year at home. Everything seemed to be okay, and my test results at that time were good too.

Every day, I load myself up with pills and am unable to eat anything else.

So I didn’t suspect anything was wrong until I came back to the TB hospital and found out that my TB still wasn’t cured. Twenty months of treatment had gone by with no result.  

Then the senior doctor told me that a new type of treatment was possible, with new drugs.

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Nataliya, 44, from Chudniv, Ukraine
Nataliya, 44, is from Chudniv, Ukraine

Recently I started treatment with the new drugs. Every day, I load myself up with pills and am unable to eat anything else. But if you have to do it, you just do it.

Now I feel fine, but I don’t know when they will let me go home – it depends on my test results.

The new treatment will last for 22 months. In total, the treatment will have taken up four years of my life.

In September 2018, MSF began to offer treatment at the Zhytomyr regional tuberculosis (TB) hospital using drugs, recommended by the World Health Organisation, that were previously unavailable in Ukraine. This new treatment has given hope of a cure to Nataliya and other XDR-TB patients who previously lacked effective treatment options.