Medical: Tuberculosis

© Misha Friedman / MSF

This contagious disease affects the lungs and is spread through the air when infectious people cough or sneeze. Not everyone will become ill, but ten per cent of people will develop active TB at some point in their lifetime. Symptoms include a persistent cough, fever, weight loss, chest pain and breathlessness. TB is also a common opportunistic infection and leading cause of death amongst people with HIV/AIDS.

Drugs used to treat TB are from the 1950s and a course of treatment for uncomplicated TB takes six months. Poor treatment management and adherence has led to new strains of bacilli that are resistant to one or more anti-TB drug. Multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is a serious form of this, identified when patients are resistant to the two most powerful first-line antibiotics. MDR-TB is not impossible to treat, but the required regimen causes many side-effects and takes up to two years. A newer strain, extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), is identified when resistance to second-line drugs develops on top of MDR-TB, making the treatment even more complicated.

MSF treated more than 29,000 people for TB, including 971 for MDR-TB, in 2008.