Elizabeth Wangeci, at 35 years, was a TB patient with a truly remarkable story.
A teacher by profession, Wangeci has the unique distinction of being the second ever known extensively drug resistant TB (XDR TB) patient in Kenya to have been cured.
Her story began on November 10th 2013 with what seemed like a normal cough that could be treated with over-the-counter medications.
Weeks turned into months, and what she thought was a simple cough was diagnosed to be TB when she visited a Government clinic in her neighbourhood. After a few months of TB treatment with no improvement, she was advised by a friend to visit a centre managed by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Mathare better known as the Green House. Here, she was informed that hers was in fact the fairly rare multi-drug resistant TB (MDR TB).
At one point, the doctors thought she was sabotaging her drug regime because she was not clinically responding to the medication, which then necessitated further tests that revealed she had extensively drug resistant TB (XDR TB). At this point, her story attracted national attention and a team led by the National Tuberculosis, Leprosy and Lung Disease Program (NTLD-Program) sat to work out modalities for her treatment including sourcing for drugs, assessing her family situation and helping out where need be. Wangeci narrates a story of struggle with the constant desire to throw in the towel. The toll that the medication was taking on her was sometimes unbearable. She remembers the constant feeling of sickness and dizziness, the never ending flu like symptoms, a huge loss of appetite, the occasional vomiting and fever. “Had it not been for my children and the uncertainty of how their lives would be without me, I would have given up,” reckons an emotional Wangeci.
Her woes were made worse by the stigma she faced given the preventive and control measure considering the risk of transmission to school children. This forced her to put on hold her teaching career. Further, as a lactating mother, her son was also at risk but was treated for MDR TB and responded well. For the 24 months that Wangeci was on treatment, she credits the support of her husband, moral support from health care workers and a steely mind-set to overcome XDR TB. Wangeci is now totally cured and tests show no signs of the disease in her system.
What should to be understood about XDR-TB is that it is a rare type of MDR TB caused by bacteria resistant to some of the most effective anti-TB drugs. For this reason, patients like Wangeci are left with less effective treatment options. The NTLD-Program is taking the lead in the fight by routinely screening patients for possible XDR type of TB sourcing for drugs and availing these to facilities, monitoring patient progress and providing treatment for possible side effects, updating clinical guidelines and standards on the management of XDR TB and as well as training of health care workers training.
Poverty, HIV/AIDS and malnutrition are the major risk factors that aggravate the spread of TB in Kenya. Delay in diagnosis leads to disease progression and social constraints pose major challenges in TB control. That is why the disease remains a major cause of morbidity and mortality in Kenya. To address some of the related challenges facing MDR and XDR TB patients, the NTLD-Program provides care and support in terms of food, counselling and transport for all MDR and XDR-TB patients from inception to end of treatment. Of most importance though is that the NTLD-Program has started using the newest medicine in the market for DR TB.