Agony of patients struggling with drug resistant TB

Victor Odongo at his residence in Manyatta, Kisumu on Thursday. He is a relapse TB patient who has been put on a new treatment schedule. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]
When Victor Odongo, 30, speaks, his voice comes in laborious gasps.

The man who once towered over his peers now weighs a mere 38 kilogrammes, and he keeps getting lighter.

He spends most of his days locked inside a room in Kisumu’s Manyatta slum, where his uncle Peter Ochieng’ occasionally pops in to give him food. But they never make bodily contact.

Since Odongo was diagnosed with Multi Drug Resistance (MDR) TB two months ago, he has been caged with little contact with his family. Ochieng’ says they isolate Odongo to prevent him from infecting others.

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MDR TB develops when a patient becomes resistant to the first line of TB drugs isoniazid (INH) and rifampicin (RMP).

Dr Samwel Ouma of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) says the most likely reason for developing MDR TB is stopping medication before completing the full dose.

Psychological trauma

He says patients are often cured if they follow a six-month drug regimen that is provided to patients with support and supervision.

Odongo was first diagnosed with TB a year ago, but he did not adhere to the medication dosage.

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He has now been put on injections for MDR TB, and he says he is losing his hearing.

Dr Ouma advises that a TB patient should stay in an aerated and well-ventilated room; a luxury Odongo’s family cannot afford.

In a nearby home, Eunice Atieno who is a mother of five, tells of the struggle she underwent when her husband and 14-year-old tested positive for TB.

“I isolated them inside the house until doctors advised that it was safe for us to mingle,” she says.

She says that even though the medication was free, there was a lot of psychological trauma and a feeling that the family was falling apart.

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In the same neighbourhood, Ida Achieng’, 12, sits besides her mother who has been bedridden for three months.

Jane Atieno, 51, coughs violently then sips the water placed by her bedside.

Atieno admits to not have been taking drugs because of the pill burden. TB patients can sometimes have a prescription of more than 10 pills per day.

“The medication made me feel worse than I did before taking it,” says Atieno. She says lack of sufficient food makes her feel weak and dizzy after taking the medication.

Dr Ouma says TB medication can have adverse side effects. The most common side effects of MDR TB include hearing loss, depression and kidney impairment. First-line drugs can cause rashes and drug-induced hepatitis.

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He advises patients to adhere to medication plans and keep consulting doctors instead of stopping treatment, as TB is always fatal if not treated.

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