News / Health

New TB Drug Welcomed in Hard-Hit South Africa

People await treatment at the Empilisweni Clinic that treat patient's for TB and HIV in Worcester, South Africa, February 4, 2008.
People await treatment at the Empilisweni Clinic that treat patient's for TB and HIV in Worcester, South Africa, February 4, 2008.
Anita Powell
A medication for multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, bedaquiline, will soon become available in South Africa after being preliminarily cleared by the U.S. drug authority.

The prospect is welcomed by health groups who say there is a growing need for treatment in the nation with one of the world’s highest HIV rates, and where TB is often the major cause of death. The drug has not cleared a full set of medical trials, but experts say the sick and dying can not wait.  

Dr. Dalene von Delft did not think much of it when she developed a dry cough after working in the neonatal ward at a Cape Town hospital. But then the cough would not go away. A colleague urged her to get it checked out.

That is when von Delft, now 30, found out that she had contracted multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis. This was in 2010.  
 
But von Delft had medical knowledge that many of South Africa’s TB patients do not. Her multi-drug regimen started to cause hearing loss. She did some research and asked her doctor to switch one of her medications for a drug that was still in clinical trials: bedaquiline.
 
"I basically pushed for that choice," said von Delft. "I told my physician, 'but what if I can get this drug and we can stop this drug and I can still have my hearing?’ He said, 'well, that's an idea that might work.' But yeah, it was a huge risk that I had to take. And obviously, at that stage we also didn't have a lot of information about this new drug yet…. and I'm very glad that I did because I have my hearing and I've been cured from the TB. I can't really say that that drug cured me of the TB, because I was still taking six other drugs, but it definitely made a huge difference in that respect."  

She is ecstatic that the medication that saved her hearing will this year be available in South Africa for other TB patients.
 
This stubborn strain of the dangerous lung infection is extremely prevalent in South Africa. South Africa has the world’s highest population with HIV/ AIDS, with an estimated 5.7 million cases. Tuberculosis often afflicts and kills HIV patients with seriously suppressed immune systems.
 
The World Health Organization says some 10,000 South Africans are diagnosed with multi-drug resistant, or MDR, tuberculosis each year. And the WHO says TB is second only to AIDS as the biggest killer worldwide.
 
Africa is especially hard-hit. In 2011, seventy-nine percent of the world’s estimated 1.1 million new cases of TB among HIV-positive patients were in sub-Saharan Africa.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved bedaquiline for use in late 2012 for patients who have few other options. It is not yet widely approved, and will be further tested.

Epidemiologist Dr. Helen Cox of the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders says clinicians are welcoming the new option. She says it is the first new TB drug released in decades.  
 
"There's such an urgent need for new drugs, and new treatments for multi-drug resistant TB," said Cox. "The current treatment is very long, it's 18 to 24 months, and it's associated with lots and lots of side effects that are really difficult for patients to cope with. And it's not very successful in all patients. There are a lot of patients who take all their drugs, as they're supposed to, and are still not cured."  
 
Cox says for now, bedaquiline could be a lifesaver when used under the “compassionate use” principle. That allows for experimental or potentially lifesaving drugs to be used before the end of their clinical trials. Cox says France is also using the drug under this principle.
 
Cox says the drug is not without risks. One possible side effect, she notes, is heart rhythm abnormalities. And like all serious drugs, it comes with a list of warnings and possible side effects, and it may not be suitable for everyone.
 
She says she does not know how much the drug will eventually cost. But she says the drug company has made assurances it will be affordable. TB drugs are generally very expensive.
 
Still, Cox says, for some patients and their doctors the risk is worth it.
 
"For those patients that have very limited other options, in a sense, they're very highly likely to die if they don't try this drug, and if the patient agrees, then we can give this drug to them, to give them, sort of, one last chance for a cure," said Cox. "... But I think we should also remember that the current drugs that we use for MDR TB, the injectable drugs that we use, have a very high chance of people going deaf. At least 10 percent of patients in some settings will go deaf on this drug, and it's permanent. So we also have to balance it against the risk from the drugs we're using now, which are not nice drugs. And so although we can always test these drugs for much longer, at the moment the evidence suggests that it is relatively safe, and certainly safer than the existing drugs that we're using."  

Von Delft now works in a private emergency room. She says she had to leave the public health sector because the risk is too high that she might contract TB again. She also noted that in South Africa, there is no protocol for regularly testing health workers for TB.
 
But von Delft says she is glad that others may get what bedaquiline gave her: another chance.

You May Like

As US Strikes Syria, China Sees Parallels at Home

Beijing is debating how much support to give international coalition against IS militants and trying to figure out how many Chinese nationals may have joined group overseas More

CDC: Ebola Could Infect 1.4 Million by January

US health officials say if efforts to curb the outbreak are not increased, cases will soar dramatically by early next year More

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in 5 Countries

US Agency for International Development partners with celebrities to call attention to importance of education for girls worldwide More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid