Johannesburg - There's a reason for optimism among those living with multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB).
The two-year treatment, which has side-effects such as deafness, can be successfully shortened to nine months.
International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) executive director José Luis Castro revealed the breakthrough last week.
Along with a team of TB experts, he announced the final results of the Francophone study which evaluated the efficacy of a shorter MDR-TB treatment regimen in nine African countries.
Three quarters of people in the study were cured with the nine-month regimen.
Only half the patients taking the older regimen can expect to be cured – even after taking drugs for more than 20 months.
Just completing this course is a feat of sheer determination, according to TB advocates speaking at the 47th Union World Conference on Lung Health taking place in Liverpool, UK.
The study was conducted among 1 006 people with MDR-TB in Africa.
Based on the preliminary results, in May this year the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended this regimen for MDR-TB patients who haven't taken treatment before and who aren't resistant to the drugs.
South Africa will begin implementing the nine-month regimen early next year, said Department of Health deputy director-general Dr Yogan Pillay.
“A shorter regimen means shorter duration for patients, decreased pill burden and a more rapid return to health. It also means less pressure on the health system and will reduce the costs of treatment,” he said.
Patients taking the nine-month regimen have a higher chance of being cured and are less likely to suffer from the potentially debilitating side-effects of these drugs, like deafness and blindness. This is largely because the daily injectable drugs, which cause much of the long-term side-effects, have been shortened to four months.
Phumeza Tisile, who became deaf as a result of MDR-TB treatment she started in 2010, urged the world to “respond to the emergency that is drug-resistant TB”.
She received cochlear implant surgery last year and “can hear again”. She said this cost half a million rand.
“I have had a happy ending but it scares me that many others don’t. In the recent UNAids 90-90-90 strategy for HIV, TB was mentioned only three times, as though it's not important, as though it's not an emergency,” she said.