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Improving survival rates for multi-drug resistant TB

Jezza Neumann’s documentary “TB: return of the plague” (PJ 2014;292:296) highlighted many of the issues for patients on multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) treatment and the dire need for better treatment options.

Médecins Sans Frontières has been working in the field of TB for the past 25 years and is concerned by the rise it is seeing in MDR-TB.

In 2012, MSF treated 1,794 patients in 16 countries for MDR-TB and everywhere we look for drug-resistant TB we find it. The experiences of Bheki and Nokubhega are neither unusual nor unique to Swaziland. Globally, patients are stuck with a two-year regimen that has horrendous side effects, involves eight months of painful injections, more than 14,000 tablets, and yet offers them less than a 50 per cent chance of cure.1 The experiences of many patients undergoing this gruelling experience are shared on the TB and ME blog.2

Patients and doctors in situations similar to Bheki and his doctor are calling for urgent change. The “Test me, treat me” DR-TB manifesto was written by a now cured extremely drug-resistant TB patient who lost her hearing due to the medicines and nearly lost her life. The author Phumeza Tisile and her MSF doctor Jenny Hughes are demanding increased investment in innovations and care for TB and are asking governments and other global health actors to muster the political will to help turn the tide against the rising MDR-TB epidemic.

The “Test me, treat me” manifesto calls for universal access to DR-TB diagnosis and treatment, better treatment regimens, and more financial support for treatment and research. More effective, more tolerable, shorter and affordable DR-TB drug regimens3 are urgently needed.

To ensure that these demands are heard by those who can do something about it, MSF is running a petition campaign in support of the manifesto, which will be handed over to global health decision makers at the World Health Assembly in Geneva next month, where the global TB plan for the next 20 years is on the agenda. As “TB: return of the plague” showed, this epidemic cannot be ignored and we all must demand better treatments and better patient outcomes to ensure that MDR-TB is not allowed to decimate any more lives.

If readers agree with Phumeza’s and Bheki’s demands for better treatment, they should support them and sign the “Test me, treat me” DR-TB manifesto petition at

Grania Brigden

TB medical adviser

Médecins Sans Frontières access campaign

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11137452

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