People cured of pulmonary tuberculosis often continue to have problems breathing, while poor living conditions contribute to their continued suffering.
But a contribution by a group of European doctors may soon help millions of former TB patients.
The World Health Organization says tuberculosis, or TB, is the greatest killer in the world, second only to AIDS. In 2013, 9 million people fell ill with TB, and 1.5 million of them died, mostly in low- and middle-income countries, such as Uganda.
Those who recover often continue to suffer from a chronic cough that makes it increasingly harder to breathe, Dr. Winceslaus Katagira of Kampala's Mulago Hospital, told the Associated Press.
“Unfortunately, after the TB is treated, the destruction of the lungs doesn't reverse," he said. "When it stays, that will heal by scar formation, and among the so many things that will cause a chronic lung disease is the scar tissue that remains in the lungs.”
Aggravating the situation are open fires many families use for cooking, kerosene lighting and tobacco smoke, which all release microscopic particles that contribute to chronic bronchitis and emphysema for recovering TB patients. Their condition worsens to the point at which they become unable to work.
A pulmonary rehabilitation program established at Mulago Hospital showed that patients’ health substantially improves when they attend exercise classes and improve their nutrition.
After 12 weeks, Katagira said, patients "have put on weight, they are looking bright, they all have a bright smile and they can do all these things again. They are telling you, 'Now I can look after my grandchildren.' "
Patient Nakigo Asia said she feels much better than before.
“I was too weak," she told the Associated Press. "When I use medicine, it doesn't work. So when I started exercise, I started getting that energy. But when I first came, I was too sick. I used to vomit blood, much blood.”
Study leader Dr. Rupert Jones of the Peninsular School of Medicine and Dentistry in Plymouth, England, told the Associated Press that the results gathered in Uganda may benefit other countries with large numbers of TB patients.
“We're going to be producing manuals, and hopefully, if we get the ongoing funding, we're going to be taking this out across East Africa and other countries across Europe and the Far East as well,” he said.
After the initial study at Mulango Hospital, the group plans to start a larger program in May.