How South Africa is spearheading efforts to tackle MDR-TB

Admitted three months ago, 31-year-old Ntswaki Dlamini has extensively drug-resistant TB, she is one of around 500 inpatients treated at Sizwe Tropical Diseases Hospital in Johannesburg each year. Photo by: Devex

JOHANNESBURG — Tuberculosis, an airborne disease spread via the inhalation of droplets primarily from the coughs of infected people, is the world’s deadliest infectious disease, claiming 1.5 million lives in 2018. In South Africa, 322,000 new cases are diagnosed annually.

A specific treatment — a combination of antibiotics — can cure most patients in around six months. But multidrug-resistant TB, or MDR-TB, is not so simple to treat. This form of the disease does not respond to the two most powerful TB medicines: isoniazid and rifampin. Around 8.5% of MDR-TB cases are considered extensively drug-resistant, or XDR, which is when there is additional resistance to other TB medicines.

Unless MDR-TB is tackled, efforts to eradicate the disease as a whole are undermined, said Dr. Xavier Padanilam, chief medical officer at the Sizwe Tropical Diseases Hospital in Johannesburg.

Fortunately, things are starting to change in South Africa and around the world, thanks to the development of new tools — including new medicines and better diagnostics — to tackle MDR-TB.

Access this visual story: Join Devex on the ground in Johannesburg as we explore how South Africa is spearheading efforts to tackle MDR-TB.

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