I spend most of my day reading about TB. I go over statistics, case fatality rates, and co-infection with HIV. It’s easy to get lost in the numbers. But every so often I hear a story from someone with TB that shakes me to my core. The personal stories illustrate how devastating TB is for people and their families and remind me why I do what I do. No story is more heartbreaking than that of someone suffering from drug-resistant TB.
Andrew Speaker caused an international incident in 2007 when he boarded an international flight while infected with XDR-TB, a form of tuberculosis resistant to most available drugs. It was terrifying to imagine what could have happened if the flight had taken off. Was there anything scarier than flying next to a person with extensively resistant TB?
Diagnosing a child with TB is difficult - so difficult, in fact, that the vast majority of childhood TB cases go unreported. Most young children aren’t able to cough up the sputum (phlegm) needed to diagnose the disease, and the most widely used TB test only detects 10 to15 percent of childhood cases. But this may not be the case for much longer.
Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is daunting. Full stop. Enduring the toxic treatments and social isolation necessitated over the two years of treatment is something most of us cannot even imagine. Increased global attention to MDR-TB and intimidating statistics referring to the 440,000 cases of MDR-TB each year still obfuscate the heart of the issue: that going through MDR-TB treatment is something few of us understand.