‘Early diagnosis, adherence to treatment critical in the fight against drug-resistant TB’

By Abigirl Tembo, Health Editor

The new TB treatment regimen which was introduced in Zimbabwe in 2019 has been attributed to the decline in TB cases as more patients adhere to the treatment which is now shorter and more effective.

After being diagnosed and getting treated for TB in 2007, 42-year-old Monica Majongwe of Mbizo, Kwekwe was diagnosed with TB for the second time in 2013, but this time it was the drug-resistant type.

“I was told I would get 180 injections, getting one injection every day and pills for 2 years. I was pained. I would go every day for my injection. There was a time I couldn’t even walk because of the injections, but I thank God through support from family I managed to finish my treatment,” Monica said.

It was this regimen which resulted in most TB patients defaulting on treatment, resulting in stigma.

“I was stigmatised by the community. No one wanted to enter my gate. I became a topic in my area of residence. It was really a difficult time for me and my family, but am glad my family stood by me,” a patient said.

Another patient noted, “When it comes to TB, you are on your own. No one wanted to associate with me. My weight went down from 95kgs to 35 kgs. It was a horrible time for me.”

According to Dr Tawanda Mapuranga, the TB HIV officer for the Union Zimbabwe Trust, the new TB treatment regimen has seen an increase in the number of people who are completing their treatment.

“Over the years, the treatment of TB has seen a lot of improvements. For the drug resistant TB, people used to take the treatment for two years or even more with a lot of time on injections on a daily basis for up to 6 months – about 180 doses of injectable drugs for the treatment of drug resistant TB. But over the recent years, we have seen changes in the duration of treatment also including the removal of the injectables. We are now enjoying the all oral regiment for the treatment of drug resistant TB which can span from 6 to 9 months and it also has less side effects,” he said.

“We also want to appreciate the changes which took place in the treatment of TB preventive therapy whereby in the previous years, people only used to take Isoniazid, which is taken daily for 6 months. But now in 2020 the ministry adopted the use of shorter regiments which are equally effective but with less side effects. For kids, we also introduced the child friendly formulations, those that are now palatable and are now favourable. They are flavoured for children to like them.”

there is also a drug which we use now for the contacts of people with drug resistant TB which was not there in the previous settings so these are newer innovations which is actually a good step for the national TB control program, we really appreciate and Even our patients enjoy with good completion rates as well as Better outcomes.”

Although Zimbabwe remains on the list for tuberculosis/HIV and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, the country has made huge strides to reduce infection figures and is now targeting to reach the global goal of ending TB by 2035.