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New TB Treatment Requires No Miracle

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When Endalkachew Fekadu contracted a strain of drug-resistant tuberculosis 12 years ago, it was still considered a death sentence by health professionals in Ethiopia.

Endalkachew was 16 at the time, and remembers being told the medication he’d received had failed to have any effect on the disease. “In my case, my TB was resistant to all five medications that were considered first-line drugs – the drugs that treat regular tuberculosis. It was so bad to hear. I was desperate for the next line of medications that could fix it, but at that time they weren’t available in Ethiopia – and even if you could get them it was so expensive, thousands of dollars. No one could afford it,” he recalls, sitting in his small office in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

Multi-drug resistant, or MDR-TB, occurs when patients show resistance to at least two powerful first-line antibiotics used to treat the disease. The spread of drug-resistant TB strains has been fuelled by patients receiving intermittent medication or failing to complete the gruelling course of treatment, which can include up to 20 pills a day plus injections. As a result, almost half a million cases of MDR-TB emerge each year, with only 3% of patients receiving the treatment they need.

When Endalkachew received his diagnosis he was told there was nothing that could be done, and he anticipated a similar fate to those he’d known who had died from the disease. “They would put you in a small room and quarantine you, that’s all they could do. Only a miracle could save you.”