By KJ Seung, PIH Lesotho MDR-TB Program Officer
When I first met Maliketso Lati she was 22 years old. She had multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and a young baby girl named Tsoanelo Pheko.
A single mother, Maliketso contracted MDR-TB--a virulent strain of tuberculosis--from her father with whom she lived. At the time of her diagnosis, Partners In Health in Lesotho had just started Maliketso's father on treatment for MDR-TB. He experienced painful, life-threatening side effects and extended stays in the hospital.
Understandably, his experience left Maliketso reluctant to begin treatment. In the end, only her fear of leaving Tsoanelo Pheko an orphan or passing the disease to her child convinced Maliketso to undergo treatment. The treatment worked and both she and her father survived.
As recently as the mid-1990s, public health doctrine would have consigned Maliketso and her father to death. MDR-TB treatment is expensive. Experts encouraged poor countries like the African nation of Lesotho--Maliketso's home--to sacrifice patients like her so that others less costly to treat could live.
For Partners In Health, this was morally and medically unacceptable. So we set about gathering evidence and creating new systems for MDR-TB care - first in Haiti, then Peru, then Russia, then Rwanda, and starting in 2006 in Lesotho. Today, the World Health Organization calls for treating all MDR-TB patients using an approach based on the PIH model.
But much remains to be done.
Since 2006, PIH Lesotho has treated more than 500 MDR-TB patients. Maliketso Lati and her father were among the first. Yet, estimates show there will be 500 new MDR-TB and 11,000 to 12,000 new TB infections every year in Lesotho.