A South African cement worker tells the story of his long fight with extensively drug-resistant TB, including his experience with a novel drug treatment.
Marius was a cement worker in South Africa, a country that has among the highest rates of TB in the world. He recalls, back in 2011, the first time he started to cough. Try as he could to ignore it, he couldn’t. Finally, he was diagnosed with TB, and placed on six months of treatment.
He had to go to the clinic each day to collect the medicine, which was interfering with his job. So he did what many do — he stopped taking the drugs.
“For nine months I could only stay lying down”
Marius began feeling tired, losing weight, and couldn’t eat. The next thing he knew, he was lying on the ground, unable to move.
An ambulance brought him to Brooklyn Chest Hospital, where he was diagnosed with XDR-TB, or extensively drug resistant TB. The treatment was almost too much for him to bear.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said. “For nine months I took 23 tablets every day. Every day, an injection. It was terrible and still I was not being cured. I felt dizzy the whole day and could only stay lying down.”
New hope from an experimental drug regimen
That’s when Marius was placed on a Phase 3 clinical trial, run by the non-profit TB Alliance, evaluating a new treatment for his condition. He took an experimental, three-drug treatment for six months, was rid of TB, and could finally, at long last, go home.
For nine months I took 23 tablets every day. Every day, an injection. It was terrible and still I was not being cured.
The lead investigator for the trial, Dr Francesca Conradie, says: “There’s never been a trial like this before. Up until now it’s been a matter of trying our hardest and crossing our fingers.” The World Health Organization estimates that the historical treatment success rate for XDR-TB is about 34%.
According to interim results presented at the 2018 Union World Conference on Tuberculosis and Lung Health, the first 75 participants in the trial Marius participated in reached a durable cure rate of 89% after six months of treatment and an additional six months of post-treatment follow-up.
“This new treatment is good,” says Marius. “I can do what I want to do. And I feel like the old Marius again.”