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After seven-year ordeal: 39-yr-old HIV, TB patient finds a glimmer of hope

Mohammed (name changed) is one of the first patients in India to receive the recently approved drug for his fatal drug-resistant tuberculosis

For the last seven years, Mohammed (name changed) has been confined to his tiny chawl in Dharavi. A tailor by profession and the sole earning member of the family, he was diagnosed first with HIV in 2007 and then with drug-resistant tuberculosis (TDR TB) in 2008.

Out of 17 TDR TB patients in the city, Mohammed is one of the nine who are nearly cured of the drug-resistant virus
Out of 17 TDR TB patients in the city, Mohammed is one of the nine who are nearly cured of the drug-resistant virus

“In 2007, I tested positive for HIV and started undergoing treatment in Sion Hospital. Despite taking medication, my health continued to deteriorate, and I was forced to quit my job,” said Mohammed.

When he approached doctors at the civic-run hospital, a sputum test revealed that he was also suffering from TB. “Doctors said that I could either get admitted to Sewri TB Hospital or go home,” recalled the father of two.

Even though the tuberculosis bacilli had started ravaging his left lung, Mohammed refused to let his illness get the best of him. A doctor in his locality referred him to Dr Zarir Udwadia of Hinduja Hospital.

He was prescribed a first line drug (isoniazid), a strong antibiotic for HIV, with medication generally given to leprosy patients, and a second line TB drug that continued for three years.

In 2011, doctors found out that he had drug-resistant TB. “I constantly felt intense heat emitting from my body, despite keeping three fans around me. I lost five kg, had trouble sleeping and really weak,” said Mohammed.

During his treatment at the Mahim hospital, Mohammed underwent pneumonectomy, removing a portion of his left lung that was ravaged by the bacilli, in December 2012. His family, meanwhile, was living hand-to-mouth, dependent on their relatives.

Luckily for Mohammed, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first TB drug in 40 years, bedaquiline, in 2012, specifically developed for the drug-resistant TB. He was prescribed the drug in March 2013 for six months, along with linezolid, an antibiotic recently approved by the European Medicines Agency.

With the new medication, Mohammed has now tested negative for the bacilli. “While I’m still weak and need to continue taking the drugs, I have been able to regain my weight and look forward to leading a normal life,” he said.

Expert Speak
In 2012, the National TB Institute confirmed that the tuberculosis was resistant to the 12 drugs in our hospital. Similar cases have been reported in Italy, Iran, Korea, South Africa and Argentina. Our first case of TDR TB was from Dharavi, which has the highest number of people living in 1.75 sq km. Poor ventilation, unhygienic conditions, overcrowding and low immunity makes it easy for the disease to spread. - Dr Zarir Udwadia, Hinduja Hospital

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