A South African Doctor’s Battle with Drug-Resistant TB

David Bryden, Stop TB Officer at RESULTS Educational Fund, interviews South African Doctor Dalene von Delft on her battle with drug-resistant TB.

A recent survey of nurses and other personnel at 24 hospitals in South Africa found many felt afraid of tuberculosis, especially of bringing TB home to their families.  This fear is well founded, since they are five times more likely to come down with drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) than the rest of the population.

Research presented last month at the Union Conference on Lung Health in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia showed that among 140 health facilities in five surveyed South African provinces, 60 percent were failing to screen health care workers for TB, few staff were trained in using respiratory masks, and less than 10 percent of facilities routinely checked infection control practices.

Nurses, doctors and other health workers, especially those who are themselves living with HIV, are risking their lives as they care for tuberculosis patients.  They need protection, not only as a matter of respect for worker rights but also to improve the quality of care their patients receive, since personnel who are afraid of patients are less likely to give them the care they need.

While in Kuala Lumpur, I met a courageous young physician, Dr. Dalene von Delft, who decided to go public with the story of her own battle with TB. She contracted MDR-TB after working as a pediatrician in a Cape Town township.  Only about half of people diagnosed with this form of TB are cured and actually survive, but Dr von Delft got rapid access to care.  MDR-TB treatment often damages a patient’s ability to hear, but she survived with her hearing intact because she was able to access a new medication called Bedaquiline. Doctors without Borders and others are urging for this drug to be made  widely available even before all the studies have been completed.