The cost of tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a chronic infectious disease caused by a bacterium. It destroys parts of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe, but can also spread to and attack the bones, joints and nervous system.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about one percent of our population develops TB disease each year.

In South Africa the resistant strains of TB are on the increase. In fact, only five percent of TB is drug-resistant worldwide. This means that they are difficult to treat, time-consuming, and expensive.

According to WHO, it can cost several hundred times more to treat drug-resistant TB than TB that responds to standard drugs. A recent study found that drug-resistant TB can cost South Africa over R200 000 to treat (per patient).

Why so expensive?
There are two main types of drug-resistant TB: multi drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) and extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR TB). Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB) occurs when the bacteria become resistant to at least the two first-line drugs, Isoniazid and Rifampin.

This type of TB may emerge if:

  • You don’t take your medication regularly.
  • You don’t complete the full six month schedule.
  • You spend time with someone who has MDR TB. Crowded places and poor ventilation can increase your risk.
  • The wrong drugs or combination of drugs are prescribed.
  • The drug supply is unreliable or of poor quality.

XDR TB is a sub-form of MDR TB with additional resistance to anti-TB medications, meaning it responds to even fewer drugs.

Both MDR-TB and XDR-TB don’t respond to the standard six months of TB treatment with first-line anti-TB drugs. Treatments options are more expensive, not always available and aren’t guaranteed to work. Less than half of those infected are ever cured.

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What’s more, these drugs can be costly to your health. You may have severe side-effects like deafness and psychosis. In some cases, even more severe drug resistant strains could develop. With new MDR TB strains on the rise and additional resistance to other drugs available for treating tuberculosis, the worst case scenario is that TB will become completely untreatable.

What you can do

  • Take your TB medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Don’t stop your treatment early, even if you feel better.
  • Avoid those infected with TB or MDR TB.

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