A normal injection usually involves a short-lived sting, but not this one. Imagine thunderbolts, accompanied by burning, sharp pain that shoots up your upper body and then all the way down to your legs.
This is how Kenneth Ngori describes the injection that involves treatment of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), a form of Tuberculosis infection caused by bacteria that are resistant to treatment including the most powerful first-line anti-TB medications; isoniazid and rifampin.
The 24-year-old Public Health student at Technical University of Kenya suspects he contracted the disease from his numerous travels across the country. He is a lover of adventure and travelling.
It all started last year as a fever, coughing and loss of appetite. These symptoms persisted for a number of weeks until one day he decided to seek treatment at a nearby health centre.
After a number of tests he was diagnosed with TB. At that time, he had perceived TB to be like an ordinary flu so he had no reason to worry. He was put on drugs for six months. However, the strong effects of the medicine he took made him feel much worse and at some point, he decided to quit.
“Everyday I took those pills, I was afraid for my life. You think your heart or kidneys are going to stop. Basically, you feel like all functions of your body are about to stop. The effects were horrible, and I could not take it anymore, I quit,” he narrated his experience last week, during his visit at The Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) for his daily medical regimen.
Little did Ngori know that he had just condemned himself to worse things to come. He started experiencing excessive night sweats and weakness. The experience became so agonising that he had to stop going to school because he could barely move.
Going back to hospital, and several other tests done, he was diagnosed with MDR-TB in January this year. What started off as regular TB, morphed to a stronger resistance. He was put on nine months treatment starting with six months of both swallowing pills and injections, forcing him to completely drop out of school.
“The drugs gave me serious side effects. My skin started peeling and I became so sick that I was admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital for three weeks. I lost weight. Looking at me that time, you would not recognise me,” he says. As Kenya marked World TB Day last Saturday, Ngori had one message for patients: Do not default on treatment, things can only get worse.
With six months to completion of treatment, the once social bird now experiences social challenges since he lost his self-esteem.
He is on Directly Observed Treatment (DOT), which is a World Health Organisation recommended TB control strategy. The strategy is meant to ensure that patients do not default on medication.
“People cannot comprehend what kind of disease would make someone go to the hospital daily. My physical structure, and complexion also has changed lowering my self-esteem,” he says.
However, he thanks the medical aid organisation, MSF for offering him counselling services, which he takes part in everyday as his confidence is slowly growing.
He is delighted that the treatment period for his condition has been reduced from approximately 20 months to nine-12 months, saying that this would give patients, such as him, more hope and further encourage them to adhere to treatment.
Hussein Kerrow, an infectious diseases specialist with the international medical aid organisation Doctors Without Borders, MSF, said after months of struggling, Ngori is now responding well to medication.
He says one of the major causes of multi-drug-resistant TB is patients defaulting treament and not seeking medication on time.
Another impediment to curbing the killer disease, he says is incompetence by some health facilities who misdiagnose TB. When we visited MSF, we found Kerrow attending to a patient whose condition worsened due to doctors neglect.
“This patient was put on Extreme Drug Resistant TB treatment, yet he had MDR-TB, thus escalating his condition,” says Kerrow.
At the moment, the facility is handling 12 cases of MDR-TB.
Ngori who lives in BuruBuru says he hopes to go back to school and complete his studies.