Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis used to be a death sentence for poor people, and it still is for many.
Today, a third of MDR-TB patients around the world die from the disease. A cure requires at least two years of treatment, including daily injections of antibiotics that cause serious side effects such as loss of hearing and liver damage. Many MDR-TB patients permanently lose some lung capacity.
But one Peruvian patient with MDR-TB decided that he wouldn’t let his illness hold him back.
Carlos Cántaro, 27, lives in the hillside shantytowns of Lima, Peru. In 2012, he began treatment for MDR-TB, which caused problems with his hearing and contributed to his depression. A few months ago, he participated in a group therapy session provided by Socios En Salud, Partners In Health’s sister organization in Peru, which supports patients with MDR-TB in partnership with the Peruvian Ministry of Health.
“I was depressed for a long time, but therapy helped me,” Cántaro said. “Sharing my experience, I felt like I could vent. I felt more confident in myself.”
With his disease under control through treatment, he decided to take up sports again. In school, he had excelled in running and won several competitions on the district level. But his physical abilities had deteriorated because of his illness and the treatment.
Cántaro knew what was ahead of him. Slowly, he began training to improve the capacity of his body and lungs. He worked up to running every other day in the mornings, and on his days off, doing other exercises at home or in parks close to his home in San Juan de Lurigancho.
Then he decided to run a 10K race, which was part of an event themed “Together, nothing can hold us back.” Cántaro asked PIH/SES for support, and clinicians evaluated him to ensure he was well enough to run. He was in relatively good health, with fewer lesions in his lungs than many patients. Half a dozen staff from Socios En Salud turned out on race day, Oct. 13, to cheer for him.
“It’s not easy to have this illness and take up running,” said Vanessa Carrillo Montenegro, SES communications officer. “At first, the disease forced him to quit sports for a while, but he has such an athlete’s spirit that his goal is to continue doing what he did before he got sick.”
And he did. Cántaro completed the race in 55 minutes, a pace just under nine-minute miles.
“I want to start my own business and continue running to be an example to others,” he said. “They too can make this choice, to believe that it can be done.”
Cántaro has been responding well to treatment. The Peruvian Ministry of Health provides his medications, and PIH/SES provides additional support, such as psychotherapy, food packages including meat and vegetables, and home visits from a nurse. In a few months, he will undergo a medical evaluation to determine whether he is finished with treatment or requires another year of care.
“I will finish treatment and continue working for my family,” said Cántaro, who is married and has a 3-year-old son. “God willing, I’ll always have my passion for sports.”