Growing up in Ghana’s central region, 22 year old Bridget had a lively childhood full of promise. She was an active participant in all extra-curricular activities without challenges, even little ailments that came her way were cured with basic medications. But at age 14, things took a sudden turn when she was diagnosed with Asthma upon admission to a hospital.
But the diagnosis of asthma was only the beginning of a difficult period for young Bridget. After several weeks of hospital visits and treatment with persistent coughing, she was re-admitted to hospital where she was diagnosed with Tuberculosis (TB).
“It was not easy when I was told I had TB. I cried very bitterly, although I didn’t know much about this disease.” Bridget painfully recounts. “But the medical team educated me and made me aware that it was curable.”
After dropping out of school and being put on treatment for six months, there was hope that Bridget was finally recovering. However, two months was all it took for her to start experiencing severe cough again, leading to a diagnosis of Drug Resistant TB.
Whilst globally, TB is the 13th leading cause of death and the second leading infectious killer and responsible for 1.6 million deaths in 2021, Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) has increasingly become a significant concern for health authorities. It is a form of TB caused by bacteria that do not respond to isoniazid and rifampicin, the two most effective first-line TB drugs.
Though MDR-TB is treatable and curable by using second-line drugs, such treatment options are limited and require extensive chemotherapy of at least 9 months and up to 20 months of treatment with medicines that are expensive and toxic.
In Ghana, the National TB Control Programme (NTP) has been instrumental in providing guidelines, treatment and support to clients affected by the disease. Since 2016 there have been great advances in the detection of Drug-resistant and Drug Sensitive TB cases, with GeneXpert is now the main diagnostic tool in investigating TB.
“The country has made significant progress in dealing with the challenges of drug resistance to TB,” said Dr Kafui Senya, Medical Officer for TB, HIV and AIDS at the WHO Office in Ghana. “But we are not resting, we continue to explore innovative ways of strengthening the fight against this disease.” He added.
The country has also moved to WHO-recommended shorter all-oral treatment regimens for drug-resistant TB in 2020, which has not only reduced the duration of treatment but also eliminated severe disabilities and severe hearing impairment.
For Dr. Yaw Adusi Poku Programme, Manager of the National TB Control Programme the government and partners are committed to working with stakeholders to consolidate the gains being made.
“Life with TB is painful and we are particularly concerned about the increasing rate of MDR-TB,” Dr Yaw Adusi Poku noted. “But we are confident that, together with families, civil society groups and other stakeholders, the fight against TB will be won”.
This progress has amply reflected in the lives of people such as Bridget, who after 20 months of treatment and six years out of school is happy to be back to full strength and is doing well in school.
“Seeing myself back in school, I have forgotten about the six years in the house,” a very happy Bridget stated. “My experience has encouraged me to advocate and help fight against TB.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO), Ghana.