World TB day: “How video treatment saved my life”

An innovative new approach is helping patients cope with the side-effects of TB treatment

22 Mar 19

Aida* is a 33-year-old mother of two young sons from Kyrgyzstan. In 2016, she was diagnosed with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) – a strain of the illness that can require an arduous treatment with side-effects often described by patients as “worse than the disease itself”.

When these side-effects made it unbearable to take public transport to her appointments each day, Aida was offered “video-observed treatment” by MSF – an innovative new approach that would help her fight TB.

On 28 November 2018, after two years of treatment, Aida was finally told she was cured.

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Aida's story

“I had many side-effects from my MDR-TB treatment. I felt like my body was rejecting the medication. I had headaches, stomach aches, vomiting.

When I was put on outpatient care it was really hard for me to go to the “directly-observed treatment” clinic every day by public transport to get my medication.

Sometimes after leaving the clinic, I would feel dizzy on public transport; I didn’t recognise people and would lose my sense of direction.

There were times when I would miss my stop and wouldn’t know where I was. I was losing my mind. I wouldn’t even recognise my own home.

A patient shows his daily dose of drugs at Osh TB hospital in Kyrgyzstan

So, I decided to stop the treatment. I told my doctor that I could not do this anymore; I couldn’t go through this every day. I said I’d rather die at home peacefully than die on public transport.

A simple smartphone

The doctor asked me if I would like to start video-supported treatment instead and I agreed.

MSF gave me a smartphone that had WhatsApp messaging app installed on it. The nurse would give me enough medications for one week. Every day I would have a video call with the nurse and would show her that I was taking the drugs.

"When the doctor told me that I was not sick anymore, I cried with happiness."
AidaMSF TB patient

I started feeling a little bit better. I didn’t have to leave the house every day to go to the clinic and I didn’t have to take public transport. I would take the medication; eat well and lie down a little.

A young girl with MDR-TB gets herself ready for the day. Weightloss is often one of the first symptoms of tuberculosis

After I started the video-supported treatment, it got easier. I still had side-effects from the medication, but they were less severe. It was easier to handle them.

I felt like I could finish treatment now. I told myself I need to get better and get over it.

Looking to the future

When the doctor told me that I was not sick anymore, I cried with happiness.

When I told my kids they were so happy, they hugged me tight and said “Finally!”.

Now I am cured I’m trying to help my kids more, one of their teachers said that my son had changed. She even asked me if I had hired a tutor, but I had just started helping them and being more attentive.

I am helping with chores and trying to be a better mother. I missed out on so much, but now I am helping them with homework, I am starting to be able to do something.

Now I am finally cured, I have a lot of plans.

First, I need to have better health and heal over the winter. I will look after my kids, be there for them. And, in Spring I will start working.”

*Name was changed to protect patient privacy

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