HARARE – Takura Chinguwo from Chingwizi holding camp in Mwenezi is fighting not only a war against a strain of drug-resistant TB, but also a battle to obtain a strictly regulated new medicine that could save his life.
In February 2014 after the immense Tokwe-Mukorsi Dam basin flooded following heavy rains, Chinguwo was among 20 000 people or around 3 300 families transferred to Chingwizi camp on Nuanetsi Ranch in Masvingo’s Mwenezi District.
The transfer disrupted his treatment regimen. There was no continuity of medical care.
Chinguwo first fell sick in 2012, diagnosed with TB.
TB is a contagious bacterial lung disease that occurs mainly in areas of poverty and deprivation and spreads via the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. It is hard to treat, requiring months of antibiotic treatment, and drug resistant strains are rapidly gaining a foothold.
He completed six months of treatment for TB but fell sick again 2014. He was attended to at Chiredzi Clinic, where he left his sputum samples but failed to follow up on his results.
The situation was further worsened when the government shut down the camp in August 2014 in an attempt to permanently relocate the families on a different part of Nuanetsi Ranch where each family was allocated a one-hectare plot of land.
He was eventually traced in the camp and told that he had multiple drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) and had to go into immediate isolation to avoid spreading the disease to other people.
His transfer induced various physiological alterations which adversely affected the prognosis of Chinguwo. That is how he developed MDR TB.
He and his family were given masks. A separate tent was erected for him.
When he resumed treatment, he suffered hearing loss as a side-effect of the medical treatment. His wife Melania Chitiki, 39, and six children, had to get training in sign language so that they could communicate with their father.
“Communication was also a big challenge even for the children but they had to learn tricks of how to communicate with their father,” Chitiki said.
On instances where Chitiki cannot use sign language, she writes messages on paper and her husband responds verbally. He is supposed to see an otologist (specialist doctor for ear problems) in Harare so that he can get hearing aids but the 44-year-old cannot afford it since he is no longer employed.
The money Chitiki gets from vending tomatoes and vegetables is only enough to sustain the family.
“Ever since I lost my hearing, life has become so difficult for me,” Chinguwo told the Daily News on Sunday.
“Sometimes I feel like I am just walking yet I am dead on the inside. If I walk on my own, and if cars hoot, I don’t even hear them.”
Researchers appeal to doctors of multi-resistant tuberculosis to perform regular hearing tests of their respective patients.
“Doctors learnt that I could no longer hear when they phoned my cell-phone and I could not hear it ringing,” he said.
“My relatives now exclude me from family discussions because they know I cannot hear anything. My wife has become my ears. She supports me in so many ways. The treatment for MDR-TB destroyed my ears and left me with my mouth only,” Chinguwo said.
On top of the hearing loss, Chinguwo also suffers from psychosis-induced mental illness, which causes him to sometimes take off his clothes and sit outside his tent at the Chingwizi holding camp.
MDR- TB is TB that does not respond to at least isoniazid and rifampicin, the two most powerful anti-TB drugs. There are about 450 people with MDR-TB in Zimbabwe.
A doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (Doctors without Borders), Edson Dovi, said the prolonged treatment of MDR- TB was causing hearing loss in patients.
“MDR-TB patients encounter a lot of side effects that include deafness and mental illness due to prolonged intake of medicines.
“MDR-TB patients have to take daily dosages of injections and pills for a period of about 18 to 24 months. The side effects and length of treatment can cause some patients to stop their treatment. Although patients encounter a lot of side effects, MDR-TB can be cured,” he said.
If MDR-TB patients default on treatment, this can lead to further resistance and development of a further strain of drug resistant TB called extreme drug resistant TB which is more costly and more difficult to treat, according to MSF.
World TB Day was marked on Friday under the theme “Unite to End TB”.
However, MSF is working on the implementation of the shorter-term nine months regimen of MDR-TB drugs to lessen the effects of taking medication for a longer period of time.