School-going TB patients speak out on crisis


Today on World Tuberculosis Day, a group of Khayelitsha teens living with drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) will unveil a 2 metre tall artwork commemorating their battles against the disease, while Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warns that adolescents are being fatally neglected in the response to TB and DR-TB in South Africa.

Dr Jenny Hughes, MSF’s TB doctor in Khayelitsha, says an estimated 10% (of approximately 650,000 cases of DR-TB world-wide) occur among children and adolescents. “Although young people respond well to treatment, thousands die from this disease each year due to lack of access to improved diagnostic techniques and more tolerable treatment for young people and South Africa is no exception”, Hughes explains.

To draw attention to the vulnerability of young South Africans to DR-TB and to highlight the efficacy of new treatments like delamanid, a group of teens worked together to create a portrait of a young DR-TB patient who is now on new DR-TB treatments.

Artist Claude Chandler, known for creating portraits using word stamps, helped the teen patients and survivors to make word stamps bearing messages or words that expressed their experience of living with DR-TB. The stamps, were then used to create the portrait of a 17 year-old Sinethemba Kuse.

Sinethemba was diagnosed late, just days before Christmas in 2015, and later found that her TB strain was DR-TB.
Through the portrait, the DR-TB patients and survivors want to highlight the importance of testing for teens and for new treatments.

MSF calls on the South African government to do more to prevent TB disease and death in adolescents, including expanding access to more effective and tolerable DR-TB treatments.

On World TB Day, MSF will join a list of signatories on an open letter to delamanid manufacturer Otsuka, calling on the Japanese pharmaceutical company to urgently make this important new drug widely available.