Multi-Drug Resistant-Tuberculosis (TB) - A Global Challenge

Alice Tembe, Swaziland
It is common labour practice that sick leave is fourteen days with full pay, followed by another fourteen days of half pay and thereafter, it is unpaid leave. This made practical sense about a decade if not more years ago. With the rising toll of TB, industries lose on average an estimated thirty days to six months of paid sick leave a year, when one staff member gets infected with TB. The productivity time lost is becoming even greater, with MDR-TB. In the interest and respect of human rights, most industries are failing to control and manage productivity in the face of this dreaded disease.

In Swaziland, survivors of MDR-TB who carry the adverse side effect of hearing loss are also losing their sources of income. Experienced teachers, with hearing disparity cannot go back to work. In essence, the world of work is losing highly experienced, skilled and long serving employees not just to death by MDR-TB, but also due to the adverse side effects of the medication and long term absence due to illness. A loss in the industry output eventually affects the country Gross Domestic Product and the whole nation suffers, this effect spirals to the world. It is therefore suicidal for the world to ignore this rising threat to the populace. MDR-TB is a form of TB that is resistant to at least the medicines rifampicin (R) and isoniazid (H). This makes it more difficult and expensive to treat. Compared to six months for a typical TB case, it can take up to two years to treat MDR-TB and the treatment is 100 times more expensive. Proof of the efficacy of shorter treatment regimens would signal real progress in helping to reduce the time and cost of addressing some cases of MDR-TB and this topic is addressed in several sessions during the conference.

The WHO Global TB Report 2013, released in London last week, reports that 3.6 per cent of newly diagnosed and 20.2 per cent of retreatment cases of TB had MDR-TB.  The report states that an estimated 450,000 people developed MDR-TB and 170,000 died from the disease in 2012.  It also concludes that less than one-third of the people estimated to have MDR-TB were detected in 2012.

“MDR-TB is a real and present threat to global health”, says José Luis Castro, Interim Executive Director of The Union. “It puts a greater burden on health systems and budgets, as well as the obvious harm it causes to MDR-TB patients and their families. Cases are found all over the world, irrespective of a country’s overall level of TB prevalence. We all have an urgent and vested interest in identifying MDR-TB and controlling its spread”.

Alice Tembe, Swaziland
Citizen News Service - CNS
November 2013